Powell wants punt team to improve

CLEMSON – Andre Powell wants to change a trend that's developed in the three years he's been at Clemson, two of which he's spent as the special teams coordinator.

Outside of team field goals, this spring's special teams work focused on punting.

"The emphasis was on punt and punt return. Punt, because we've been first or second in the league in everything since I've been here, except for punt," Powell said. "I don't think we've cracked the top half of the league in punt."

Last season, Clemson had the second highest net punting average in the ACC (33.02 yards). The Tigers also ranked 103rd among all FBS teams. In 2008, Clemson was 34.73, seventh in the ACC, 65th in the country.

"So that's what the emphasis was. So in order to give us good on good, we worked punt versus punt return," Powell said.

Dawson Zimmerman, last year's punter, remained consistent enough throughout the spring to retain his job. But he did receive a late push from Richard Jackson, who hit several booming punts during the Orange and White spring game.

Powell agreed that Zimmerman's job security is threatened.

"If you watched the spring game, he is," Powell said. "What a lot of folks don't understand, some of those punts were too long to cover. If you start kicking punts 65, 70 yards, Richard is going to be the guy that has to make the tackle."

But it's not as if Zimmerman performed poorly during the spring game.

"Dawson averaged 44 yards a punt in the spring game. Had he averaged 44 yards in the season, we might have been up toward the top of the league in punting," Powell said.

Punt return has been a different story. Clemson ranked second in among ACC teams in 2009 and fifth in 2008.

"We lost two returners who have been the main returners for four years," Powell said.

The two very important keys to that success were both selected in the NFL Draft.

C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford combined 18 of the 26 punt returns, 353 of the 374 of yards and the two touchdowns last season. In 2008, they combined to return 30 for 251 yards.

Powell looked at two candidates to field punts this fall: Marcus Gilchrist and DeAndre McDaniel. Gilchrist has returned four punts for 28 yards during his Clemson career. During the stadium scrimmage, he returned one punt for a touchdown.

"Gilchrist has returned them in a game," Powell said. "We'll worry about kickoff return (later). We really don't lose anybody up front in the scheme and it's a lot easier to catch those kickoffs than it is a punt, so we really didn't work on kickoff return."

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