More production needed in return game

CLEMSON — When C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford go back to return a punt, it's just assumed one of them is going to take the football to the house, but in reality that's nowhere near the case.

In fact, neither has returned a punt for a touchdown since Ford went 92 yards for a score against Florida Atlantic in the 2006 season-opener. In the three years Spiller and Ford have been returning punts, Clemson has averaged no better than 9.4 yards a return and that came in 2007.

Last year, the Tigers ranked fifth in the ACC in punt returns and 66th nationally with an 8.5 average. Central Michigan led the country with a 20.5 yards return average and Miami led the ACC with an average of 11.4 per return.

And though he holds the record for the most touchdowns greater than 50 yards in school history with 12, Spiller has never taken a punt back further than 38 yards, and that came in 2007.

"Since I have been here, we have not go the productivity we should have gotten with the two guys we have returning the ball," special teams coordinator Andre Powell said. "We are going to change some of things we do. We are going to change how we coach it, how we teach it and how we rep it and hopefully we will see a little bit more productivity."

In fairness, though, it wasn't much better before Powell took over in 2007. In 2006, the same year Ford returned a punt 92 yards, the Tigers averaged just 7.6 yards a return and in 2005 it was even worse. Clemson averaged just 6.9 yards then.

"There is no reason why we should not be one of the top return teams in the league," Powell said.

Luckily, Clemson has been a little bit better in terms of kickoff returns, but it can stand to improve there as well. Last year, the Tigers ranked fourth in the ACC and 34th nationally with a 22.4-yard average. Spiller, however, was one of the best in the country as he ranked second in the ACC and 14th nationally with a 27.16 average.

Spiller has had much better success at returning kicks than punts. He has returned three for touchdowns and is averaging better than 25 yards a return in his career. Like Spiller, Ford has also had success returning kicks with a 25-yard average and one touchdown.

Then there is Marcus Gilchrist, who is averaging 33 yards per return. He had a 66-yard return against Duke two years ago in Durham, N.C. and last year he returned a kickoff 46 yards against Georgia Tech and probably would have scored had he not cramped up when he broke into the open field.

"He has a real good knack for kickoff returns, but the problem with Gilchrist is that he is so good up front when it comes to blocking," Powell said. "He may be our best guy up front. If you move him back to return kicks, then you are going to get a guy who is probably not as good as C.J., and then you are putting a guy up front that isn't as good as him.

"You weaken yourself at two places, but he can return the ball."

Crezdon Butler is another guy who could return punts and kicks this year, as well as Andre Ellington and Marquan Jones.

"Those are some of the guys you could see. Hopefully you will not see them, but those are some of the guys you could see," Powell laughed. Top Stories