If there is one area of the team that appears to be locked and loaded headed into the start of spring practice on March 6th, it's Greenwood native Jad Dean handling the kick-off duties on special teams.
Dean was signed in the 2003 recruiting class to come in and make a contribution right away, and that's exactly what he did last year.
The true freshman hit 27 of his 74 (36%) kick-offs into the endzone in 2003, and 11 more to the goal line. On average, the opposing team started at the 23-yard line.
And he did all of that as a true freshman.
Look for his numbers to steadily improve during his Clemson career as he displays one of the top legs in the country over the course of the next three years.
In reality, the only question we can think of that surrounds Dean is whether or not he can become consistent enough to handle both field goals and kick-offs.
Redshirt freshman Cole Chason averaged a respectable 38.6 yards per punt in 2003, managed to not have one single punt blocked, and also didn't fumble any snaps. Nevertheless, there's little doubt that he'll be challenged this spring to retain his starting spot.
Chason was inconsistent during his first year on the job, especially during the early parts of the season. He did however, rebound towards the end of the year, highlighted by a Peach Bowl performance that saw him average more yards per punt than one of the top kickers in the nation in Tennessee's Dustin Colquitt.
Where Chason's competition will come from this spring is somewhat of a mystery, but it will likely be from the walk-on ranks.
Chason finished 6th in the ACC in punting, and while that may sound good, it was 6th out of 9 possible teams. At times, he displayed solid leg strength, getting the ball to turnover and getting more distance than his predecessor Wynn Kopp (37.1 and just 31.7 net).
However, it all comes back to consistency. This spring, he'll have to continue to show improvement across the board if he's going to retain his starting job.
If not, Jad Dean could also get a look at punter, even though that's really not considered his strong point.
Back up placekicker Stephen Furr has also seen considerable action in practice as a punter and could challenge for the starting spot as well. The Tigers' main reserve punter last year, Kyle Tucker, was a senior.
|Aaron Hunt leaves a few question marks at placekicker in 2004.|
Here's where things could get interesting. For the first time in 4 years, the Tigers won't have the luxury of having Aaron Hunt as their starting placekicker.
Hunt was a consistent performer, but he will be best remembered for his 25-yard field goal to beat archrival South Carolina to close down the 2000 regular season.
If anything, there are several kickers on the roster this spring that have more potential, and more power, than Aaron Hunt. Right now, Dean has the edge over most of the other kickers on the team simply because he's got the strongest leg.
Last summer, Dean reported to CUTigers.com that he was able to connect on field goals from as far away as 60+ yards off the ground.
However, Dean struggled somewhat last fall in making the full transition from the high school ranks to college. In short, in going from a one-inch tee to kicking directly off the ground, the Greenwood native struggled with his consistency.
At the same time, that really doesn't mean a whole lot to the rising sophomore this offseason.
"I've been much more consistent lately," said Dean in a recent interview. "There's nothing I'm really doing different, I'm just starting to get a better feel for it."
Dean will be challenged by rising junior Stephen Furr. Furr handled kick-offs back in 2002 and registered 8 touchbacks on 57 kicks, so he has some solid gameday experience, and should provide formidable competition for Dean this spring.
For now, we'll give the edge to Dean, simply because his leg strength is too much to ignore.
Geoff Rigsby will return for his final year as the Tigers' long snapper. Rigsby was solid in 2003 in what most people view as a thankless job.