5 Questions for Spring Practice: No. 2

If the Tigers want to advance to the ACC Championship game in Jacksonville this year, improvements must be made on special teams.

4) Will special teams play resemble that of 2004 or 2005?
To put it mildly, special teams play for Clemson this past season was the exact definition of an oxymoron.

The punting was dismal, punt returns, minus the Texas A&M game, were brutal and kickoff coverage was average. The good news is that kicker Jad Dean was one constant, eventually being named one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award.

Dean even fought through several late-season injuries to give the Tigers a reliable option inside 50 yards.

With that said, the biggest issue is at punter, where Cole Chason has been the starter for the last three seasons. He's set to come back for his fourth year, but there's no guarantee he'll be the one doing the kicking, especially after what occurred in 2005.

Chason punted 50 times for an average of 36.44 yards per kick, which ranked him 99th in Division I. However, when you add in the five punts that were blocked, Clemson managed just 29.42 yards per punt, which is three spots away from being ranked dead last in the country.

In 2004, Chason averaged a respectable 40.24 yards a punt, which followed the 2003 season in which he averaged 38.59 yards per punt.

There doesn't seem to be a simple explanation for the dramatic drop in production. Even when he wasn't receiving much pressure this past season, Chason continued to struggle mightily.

Look for incoming freshman Richard Jackson to challenge Chason for the job later this fall. Jackson has a stronger leg and is widely considered one of the top kickers in the country coming out of Greer's Riverside High School.

Another change in the punting will be the blocking formation, which was a disaster in 2005. Five times Clemson had punts blocked, which is a very high number, especially for a Tommy Bowden-coached team.

As far as punt returns are concerned, Chansi Stuckey handled nearly all of them and surprisingly enough, he wasn't as special as what everyone thought he would be. He averaged 7.37 yards per return, which ranked him 67th in the nation.

As a team, the Tigers ranked 86th in the country with a 6.90-yard return average.

Look for the coaching staff to install new schemes and a devise a way to take advantage of Stuckey's elusiveness. Also, look for freshman wide receiver Jacoby Ford to try his hand in the return game this spring.

Ford has been routinely clocked in the 4.2 range in the 40-yard dash and was one of the fastest prospects in the country coming out of Fork Union this winter.

Though it's overlooked many times, special teams play is as important as any other phase of the game. It can be the difference between winning and losing. And in a year where expectations will be high, having a reliable punter, an accurate kicker and excellent coverage units can be the difference in an ACC Championship or finishing back in the middle of the pack.

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