Who's Clemson's next kicker? Tough call

CLEMSON — During spring drills, especially early on, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney stressed the importance of the kicking game.

In fact, the Clemson coach said finding a replacement for Mark Buchholz at placekicker was every bit as important as finding his next starting quarterback.

And like the quarterback situation, the Tigers are no closer to naming a starting kicker than they were at the start of the spring.

However, also like the quarterback situation, the Clemson coaching staff saw a lot of good things out of Spencer Benton and Richard Jackson the last few weeks of the spring that makes them feel a lot more comfortable than they did after the first week.

"After the first week of practice they had to come in here and take all of the sharp objects out of my office," Clemson special teams coordinator Andre Powell said. "But when we got back from spring break those guys really improved and the last two scrimmages they were perfect, something like 18-for-18.

"One of those days we kicked all of our field goals from 40 plus and they nailed every one of them."

Ironically, things started to improve when Benton, a redshirt freshman, started drilling everything he kicked right down the middle. The Myrtle Beach native initially took the lead in the battle, which started pushing the guy many thought would win the job — Jackson — to be more consistent.

And that's the way Jackson answered the challenge.

"That's the nature of competing and it was good to see Richard going for it at this point in his career and making that big jump," Powell said. "It was also good to see Benton make a big jump. Any time your players get better, you get excited about it. Hopefully they will keep improving."

Though Benton is listed as the starter right now on Clemson's depth chart, it does not mean he will be the starter come Sept. 5.

"They are still competing for the job. It is a good competition," Powell said. "Both of those guys have some work to do. When you look at our overall team, probably no position made as much improvement as those guys did.

"You tend to go with the guy you have confidence in and the guy you have confidence in is the guy that consistently does it. We have two guys and hopefully one of them will become head and shoulders better than the other one, but if not, it could be a game-day decision or a week-to-week situation. Similar to the punting situation we had last year."

Speaking of punting, Dawson Zimmerman, who spent much of last season trying to recover from a hamstring pull he suffered in warm ups prior to the game against Alabama, will be the Tigers starter with Jackson listed as the backup.

Powell said Jackson had a good spring punting the football and did a good job pushing Zimmerman for the starting spot.

"Richard has a strong leg and a strong enough leg to win either job," he said.

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