Kicking game will be critical again

CLEMSON - Given the expected close nature of the ACC once again in 2010, there's a good chance Clemson's ability to repeat as Atlantic Division champions will come down to the kicking game.

And with the spring game nearly a week away, things are status quo at each of the three kicking spots. Richard Jackson is leader in the clubhouse at place kicker with Dawson Zimmerman at punter and Spencer Benton kicking off. Jackson was 20-of-31 on field goals in 2009, finishing No. 26 in the nation with 1.43 field goals a game.

Acknowledging it wasn't always a smooth ride last season, he wants to improve.

"I got my first taste of action, had some ups and downs. I just really want to build on the positives and get rid of those inconsistencies," Jackson said. "I kind of had a blow up game against Florida State. Maryland, I was kind of irritated with that—it was a blow up game, trying to get rid of those."

Interestingly enough, he didn't see himself as the front runner entering this spring's competition.

But on Wednesday, head coach Dabo Swinney said Jackson has had the best this so far.

"I've been really pleased with Richard Jackson," he said. "We've kicked a ton of field goals. He's probably 70-80 percent, somewhere in that range. He's by far been the most consistent guy.

"The battle is for the second spot."

Benton, who was good on his only field goal last season (28) and 4-of-7 on extra-points, is competitng with redshirt freshman Chandler Catanzaro for the right to be Jackson's back up. Benton finished practice Wednesday with field goals from 50 and 55 yards, which Swinney said, "would have been good from 60."

"He's got a really strong leg, just struggles with consistency. That's where he's got to mature and grow up," he said.

The leg strength appears to have given Benton the kick off duties again this fall.

"I'm trying to hold on to that," he said. "With field goal, I'm trying to grab that. If not, I'm just going to push Richard and Chandler (Catanzaro)."

Catanzaro, a preferred walk-on, enjoys the competition, which he likens to what he was a part of during fall camp.

"It's awesome being out here. It's such a blessing, being out here with these guys, playing with them," he said.

"I'm eager to show what I've got. I'm going to do the best that I can and see what happens. Richard and Spencer are kicking great. I'm just trying to make kicks."

Zimmerman finished 2009 with a 36-yard net punting average with a long of 55. He hit four over 50 yards and touched 19 inside the 20.

He's entered this spring with a different mindset about punting.

"Last year, it was about winning a job. That was the mindset. This year, it's about punting with the season in mind, even though it's only spring," he said. "Every time I go out there, I'm trying to visualize that it's a game atmosphere." Top Stories