Post spring insider: Punter

CLEMSON — It's hard to believe, but no Clemson punter has netted 40 yards a punt in the last 10 years.

It's also hard to believe the Tigers haven't really had a dominant punter since the days of Chris Gardocki, which was almost 20 years ago. Remember it was Gardocki who averaged 43.5 yards a punt and more importantly netted better than 40 yards a boot. Only Dale Hatcher, who averaged 43 yards per punt from 1981-‘84, punted more than the Pro Bowl performer with an equal amount of success.

Punting and the punt coverage team has been a throne in the Tigers side for a good number of years, and all throughout the Tommy Bowden era. Bowden finally started to ease the problems a few years ago when he hired Andre Powell in 2007 and then promoted him to special teams coordinator in 2008 — Clemson's first ever such coach.

But Powell was brought in and promoted to such a position thanks to Clemson's lack of success in the punting game as well as the special teams as a whole. In all, Bowden coached teams had 14 punts blocked --- a prime reason why no Clemson punter netted 40 yards.

In fact, not until Cole Chason averaged 41.3 yards per punt in 2006 did a Bowden punter average better than 40 yards a punt. Ironically, Chason did not have a punt blocked that season, a year after he had five blocked.

In 2007, Jimmy Maners averaged 42.8 yards a punt, but two of his kicks were blocked and a couple of more were returned for good yardage, bringing his net average to 37.5. Maners' average was just 37.2 last year and he again had two punts blocked.

This year Dawson Zimmerman, who was recruited out of Lawrenceville, Ga., will take over for Maners, who has since graduated. The sophomore pushed Maners all of last season despite a hamstring injury that limited his effectiveness at times a year ago. Despite that, he still averaged 38.3 yards a punt and tied Maners with a long of 54 yards.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore has the talent, he just has to get to the point where he is consistently hitting them well. Zimmerman's strength — good hang time — is an issue the Tigers had with Maners. Though Maners probably had the stronger long, he consistently out-kicked his coverage, allowing for several good returns, while putting extra pressure on the coverage team to make plays.

Maners did get better in this area last year as opponents averaged just 8.4 yards a return, which was down more than six yards from the 14.7 in 2007.

Zimmerman also has a strong leg, evident by his 42.7-yard average in the spring game, but he also does something that has been missing at Clemson through the years — he puts air under the ball. Last year, he averaged 38.5 yards a punt and netted 36.3.

The No. 2 punter in the nation according to coming out of high school, Zimmerman is being pushed by redshirt junior Richard Jackson, who Powell said had a good enough spring to overtake Zimmerman this fall if the sophomore does not work hard enough to stay on top of his game. Top Stories