Season Outlook: Special teams experienced heading into 2020 season

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Potter kicks a 52-yarder against LSU
Potter kicks a 52-yarder against LSU

One year after Clemson returned a school-record 61 lettermen for the 2018 season, the Tigers entered the 2019 campaign with a roster that included 80 freshmen and sophomores. Clemson’s 2020 squad is a mixture of youth and experience, as Clemson once again expects 61 returning lettermen, yet still features a roster that includes 78 players classified as freshmen or sophomores.

Clemson opens its 125th season at Wake Forest on Sept. 12, and the Tigers enter with a combination of lethal talent and experience at some key positions alongside an exciting collection of youth ready to excel as opportunities become available.

Let’s take a look at the special teams outlook, courtesy of the Clemson Football Media Guide:

Junior B.T. Potter (Rock Hill, S.C.) is Clemson’s incumbent at placekicker, where Dabo Swinney has been encouraged by the positive momentum generated from his conclusion to an up-and-down 2019 campaign. Potter is 14-for-22 on his career on field goal attempts and a perfect 86-for-86 on extra points.

Potter was 3-of-4 on field goals in postseason play last year, including a career-long 52-yard field goal against Louisiana State that represented the longest made fi eld goal in College Football Playoff National Championship Game history. He finished the season with a school-record-tying three field goals of 50 or more yards. He showed remarkable consistency from long range, going 3-for-3 from 50-plus yards.

In addition, Potter’s powerful leg has made him a weapon for Clemson as a kickoff specialist for two straight seasons from 2018-19. He led the nation in kickoff average in 2019 with an average of 64.63 yards per kick. His 79.0 percent touchback percentage on those kickoffs ranked fifth in the country.

Punter was a bright spot for Clemson in the 2019 postseason, as Will Spiers (Cameron, S.C.) produced some of the best performances of his career on the biggest stages. In College Football Playoff games against Ohio State and Louisiana State, Spiers dropped 10 of his 16 punts inside the 20 yard line. Spiers, who will be a senior in 2020, finished the season with a career-high 41.7-yard net average, the second-best single-season mark in school history behind Dale Hatcher’s 1984 performance (42.4).

Also returning at punter is Aidan Swanson (Tampa, Fla.), who redshirted in 2019. Clemson will have a new starting long snapper in 2020 following the graduation of Patrick Phibbs. Redshirt junior Jack Maddox (Acton, Mass.) and graduate Tyler Brown (Greenville, S.C.) are among those that will vie for that starting position. On placekicks, the snapper will benefit from the steady hands of senior Will Swinney, who is expected to be the team’s primary holder for the fourth consecutive season.

Five players returned at least one punt for Clemson in 2019, all five of whom return for 2020. Amari Rodgers was Clemson’s primary punt returner a season ago, averaging 8.4 yards on 18 returns, including a season-long 53-yard return against Wake Forest. Derion Kendrick accounted for nine returns as well last season and remains a trusted option.

Joseph Ngata was Clemson’s primary kick returner in 2019, giving way to Travis Etienne down the stretch as Dabo Swinney sought to use special teams to get Etienne extra touches in what he terms the “Championship Phase” of the season. While Clemson’s defense limited the amount of kickoff return opportunities, Ngata still totaled 325 yards on 14 returns, a 23.2- yard average, in 2019.

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