Massive changes on special teams

CLEMSON - The mere threat of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford returning kicks and punts was enough for Clemson's opponents in 2009 to concede favorable field position to the Tigers.

Clemson finished 24th in the country in kickoff returns, averaging 23.75 yards per return and tied for second in touchdowns (4). The Tigers' 14.38 yards per punt return was seventh best.

Special teams coordinator Andre Powell plans for Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper to return kicks, but hopes for another kick returner to emerge this spring. For now, Marquan Jones looks to be that third option.

"Those are the guys that have done it," Powell said.

"I'm sure Jamie is going to be back there and I'm sure Andre is going to be back there. I'm not for sure that Marquan is the next best guy. He may be. He knows what to do and understands what we're trying to get done."

A third kick return spot could go to the fastest offensive player on the team.

"We've got 15 days to figure it out and all summer to hash it over," Powell said.

Roderick McDowell and Marcus Gilchrist look to figure in at punt returner.

"I'm worried more about punt return than I am kickoff return," Powell said. "That ball moves differently when you're catching a punt, as opposed to a kickoff. Roderick is a real option for us when it comes to punt returns."

Gilchrist's importance on two other special teams could limit his opportunities at punt returner. Powell prefers to keep players who contribute a lot on offense and defense to just two special teams.

"Marcus is so valuable to us at the right tackle position on punt. We know he's going to play there. He's really the best blocker on kickoff return up front," he said.

There are a few question marks when Clemson's kicking this spring, although place kicker Richard Jackson, punter Dawson Zimmerman and kickoff specialist Spencer Benton are all back.

Jackson made an average of 1.43 field goals per game a year ago--26th best in the country. At times, he was among the top few. But he also struggled at times.

"There are going to be a lot of folks pushing Richard, including myself," Powell said. "Richard's matured. He's overcome a lot of things. Richard was written off, left for dead…this may be a pre-mature statement, we may have asked too much of him (in 2009)."

Specifically, the long field goal attempts in the rain against Boston College.

"We probably expected for him to kick too many 45, 40-plus yard field goals," Powell said.

Clemson finished 24th in kickoff return defense with a 20 yards per return average, a yield that's satisfactory for Powell.

Powell would like to see better punting after finishing 103rd in net punting, averaging 33 yards per punt.

"We're going to push those specialists and challenge them every way we can," he said. "There's obvious room for improvement with our kickers and punters."

Michael Wade will continue holding on field goals and extra-points and Matt Skinner is back at long snapper. Powell is looking for backups for both of those positions.

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