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2019 Clemson Football Season Preview: Special Teams

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Special teams was the only small crack in the Clemson armor last season. They need to be better this year.

Duke v Clemson Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Special teams is a nebulous category that encapsulates all things not offense or defense. If you had to point to one small crack in the Clemson armor last year, it was special teams. They weren’t particularly bad, but they weren’t particularly good either. This year the Tigers may not have as much wiggle room with their young defense; subsequently, it would be much appreciated if special teams took a step up from average to good.

Place Kicking

Greg Huegel was 11/16 on field goals and 76/78 on extra points last year coming off of an ACL tear. Greg the leg came up big when the Tigers needed him most. He was 4/4 on extra points against Texas A&M on a slick field and hit 2 of 3 field goals (his miss coming from 47 yards out) and all 3 extra points against Syracuse. Clemson will need the same sort of performance this year from B.T. Potter this year, because Clemson will inevitably play in at least one game where kicking plays an important role

Potter, Clemson’s kick off specialist last season, has a cannon for a right leg. The question isn’t distance for Potter, but his ability to put it between the sticks. He’s got all the physical ability in the world, but hasn’t taken a pressure kick in college yet. That makes him a bit of question mark coming into the season. I think he’ll be fine but you never know how a kicker is going to react under game pressure until he actually kicks under game pressure.

Looking past his lack of experience, Potter brings yet another weapon to the Tigers offense. I won’t be surprised to see Dabo trot him out for a few 50+ yard field goals, because he’s got that sort of range. Spencer Benton set the Clemson and ACC record for the longest field goal against Ball State in 2012 (I saw this one live) with a 61 yard field goal. I think Dabo will give Potter at least one opportunity to break that record this year. The NCAA record is 67 yards, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Potter get a chance to tie or break that record at some point in his Clemson career.

Punting

Returning junior kicker Will Spiers is in a fight for the starting punter role with freshman Aidan Swanson. Ideally, Spiers wins the job and Swanson redshirts, but Clemson is in win now mode. If Swanson proves to be a more consistent punter, he’ll be the punter.

Spiers was erratic last year, averaging a meager 39.7 yards per punt. Much like Huegel however, he was good when Clemson needed him to be good (with one huge exception).

Punting vs Texas A&M

1st quarter - 41 yard punt to the Texas A&M 45

2nd quarter - 35 yard punt to the Texas A&M 8

2nd quarter - 41 yard punt to the Texas A&M 38

3rd quarter - 51 yard punt (with an 11 yard A&M return) to the Texas A&M 43

3rd quarter - 50 yard punt (with a 14 yard A&M return) to the Texas A&M 40

4th quarter - 45 yard punt to the Texas A&M 13

4th quarter - 36 yard punt to the Texas A&M 15

4th quarter - 22 yard punt to the Clemson 49

Most fans will only remember the Spiers 4th quarter shank that set A&M with excellent field position for the potential game tying drive. It was an ugly kick that played a big part in the silliness at the end of the game, but he did manage to pin A&M inside the 20 on 3 different occasions, including twice in the 4th quarter, before he unleashed a dud in crunch time.

Punting vs Syracuse

1st quarter - 49 yard punt to the Cuse 10

2nd quarter - 44 yard punt to the Cuse 11

3rd quarter - 31 yard punt to the Cuse 14

4th quarter - 37 yard punt to the Cuse 32

Spiers did less punting in the Syracuse game, but managed to put 3 out of his 4 punts inside the 20. The problem, once again, was the 37 yard shank in the 4th quarter that gave the Orange decent field position when they should have been starting inside the 20. Much like the A&M people probably remember the bad punt in the 4th and not the 3 excellent punts in the first 3 quarters. Such is the life of a punter.

Make no mistake, Swanson was brought in to push Spiers this year. 247 sports had him rated as the 4th best punter in high school football last year. He’s a traditional punter known for his booming punts with elite hang time. He’s got the physical tools to make it happen, it’s just a question of experience. If it’s close, I think Spiers gets the nod at punter because of his experience, but don’t be surprised if he gets a quick hook if he shanks a few early. Unlike last season, the Tigers have a capable punter waiting in the wings.

Clemson should be good on punt coverage with the number of athletes they have at their disposal.

Kickoffs

Honestly, this is just a chance for some back ups to stretch their legs and run down the field. Potter is going to put the vast majority of his kicks into or through the end zone. The coverage team just can’t get complacent because every now and then Potter might come up a little short, or someone might try and take one out from 5 yards deep. The Tigers are stacked with athletic depth, and that’s a good thing for kick coverage.

Kick Return

This plays a smaller role in college football than it did before the NCAA moved up the kickoffs. Most teams have a kicker that can put it in the endzone and return opportunities are few and far between. Last season Clemson only had 20 kick return opportunities and 13 were handled by Derion Kendrick. He’s an explosive athlete, but only averaged 23 yards a return last year. His most memorable return was against Notre Dame when he fumbled and the ball somehow snuck out of bonds before the Irish could recover. Expect Kendrick to get the majority of the returns again this year. Other than Kendrick, one player to keep an eye on is freshman Andrew Booth. He was an electric kick returner in high school and has been getting some looks in camp. Overall, Clemson just needs to avoid turning the ball over with Trevor, Travis, Justyn, Tee and the boys waiting to take the field.

Punt Return

This could be a bit of a sore spot until Amari Rogers gets back from his ACL tear some time in September. Kendrick will get the majority of return opportunities early, but if struggles to field the ball cleanly, don’t be surprised if Will Swinney gets a look as a fair catch specialist. Much like kick returns, Clemson just needs to field the ball cleanly and get the offense on the field. Anything extra is gravy.