#5. What has changed on Clemson's special teams from last year?
It starts with the fact that Tommy Bowden named a special teams coach this offseason- running backs coach Andre Powell. While he jokes with the media it was done to prevent the question from being asked 50 times a week during the regular season, "How come you don't have a special teams coach?" the truth is this move needed to be made long ago. In each of the past five seasons Clemson's special teams have suffered through a roller coaster ride that would the owners of Six Flags a little jealous. One year it's a lack of production at punter. The next year it comes in the return game. The following season it happens at placekicker. Considering his background, Powell should help stabilize Clemson's special teams even if some view him as a figurehead more than anything else. A different approach needed to be applied across the board, and the good news is it finally has.
#4. That sounds decent, but what does that mean in terms of a change in philosophy?
Powell will bring new special teams ideas to game days, but what those are likely won't be known until after the Tigers take to the field against Alabama on Aug. 30. Don't expect drastic formation changes on punts and kickoffs, but he'll likely tinker with the return game and do some other things to try and create a new attitude. The bottom line here is any kind of special teams-related change is good. The one thing we do know is that Clemson practiced all of its special teams more this spring, including live kickoffs and punts. Bowden has also gotten more creative in how he approaches his use of kickers in practice- stopping drills unexpectedly to attempt field goals. The idea is the situation is more like a game because Mark Buchholz or Richard Jackson attempt just one field goal in an unexpected manner rather than kick five in a row. Again- any kind of change is good here.
#3. Shouldn't Clemson's kick return game be one of the top units in the nation this year?
There's no question it should given the personnel. With players like Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller returning punts and kickoffs, there's no reason why the Tigers shouldn't have one of the most explosive teams units in the country this season. The good news is the Tigers were pretty good in kick returns last season, ranking first in the league averaging almost 24 yards per attempt with two touchdowns. Punt returns were a bit of a different story- Clemson averaged 9.4 yards/attempt, which ranked just seventh in the ACC. The Tigers will utilize two punt returners instead of one to make sure somebody gets the chance to get the ball in his hands and make a play. Also, keep an eye on Marcus Gilchrist as well- in a limited role last year he showed a knack for making big plays.
#2. How important are special teams?
Very important. The argument could be made that Clemson's special teams have played a significant role in not winning the Atlantic Division in each of the last three years. Think about the missed field goals last year against Georgia Tech and Auburn (six combined) or Virginia Tech's two kick returns for touchdowns and ask yourself "what if?" The year before it was a blocked extra point against Boston College in triple overtime. In 2005 there the ill-timed fake field goal at Wake Forest. If Clemson is going to win the ACC this season, it can't have poor special teams play in any game. That means there can't be kickoff and punt returns given up for touchdowns or missed field goals inside 45 yards or blocked kicks or fumbled punt returns.
#1. Consistency at kicker- will it happen this season?
It should. It starts with the fact Mark Buchholz is now a senior and has used up all of his soccer eligibility. He has a year of experience under his belt, including kicking the game-winner at South Carolina, and now he won't be travelling all hours of the night to make sure he doesn't miss a soccer match 500 miles away the night before a big football game. Buchholz was a good kicker inside of 40 yards last season; he just needs to improve from further out. The problem is he was making those kicks in practice so the onus is on him but if he's missed two or three field goals in a game you have to ask yourself if he's going to make the fourth? Given that the position is so mental to begin with, the chances are good he probably won't. Still, if he can consistently make 45-50 yard field goals in practice- he should be able to do it games as well. The fact that his soccer career is behind him, and he's now more battle-tested, should produce a more consistent Buchholz this year. The leg strength is there- just a little more consistency is needed.
5 Questions for Clemson's Special Teams
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