Commentary: Special Teams Could Present Special Problems for Tigers

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - The anticipation surrounding Clemson's 2004 football season is not unlike the proverbial kid in the candy store.

Tiger fans everywhere are standing on tiptoes, slobbering down the front of their shirts as they press a forehead against the window, trying desperately to see everything there is to see inside the sugarcoated wonderland.

And for the first time in a couple of years, the attractive aspects of Tommy Bowden's program would appear to significantly outweigh the question marks. With a possible Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, a talented backfield, solid linebackers and potentially one of the best secondary units in school history, Clemson could be on track for a very good season.

Of course, no season opens without at least a few question marks. This Bowden team is no different.

The most prominent uncertainty focuses on the interior lines, where the Tigers had struggles at both offensive and defensive tackle during the spring. The general feeling about those spots seems to be positive; the talent at both positions appears to be good enough, but the lack of experience is the major concern.

Not that any questions surrounding either line should be soft-petaled. Despite the advancement of today's schemes and formations, the old cliche' about the game being won in the trenches still holds true.

But for Clemson, there may be another situation brewing - away from the line of scrimmage - which could have a profound effect on the 2004 season.

Rising redshirt sophomore punter Cole Chason, who was erratic last season until an impressive showing in the Peach Bowl vs. Tennessee, is counted on to be an anchor for the Tigers' special teams this fall.

But sources close to the team say that Chason has been battling a groin problem for some time now, and hasn't been able to kick or work out his lower body since the middle of May. The inability to fine-tune his mechanics, not to mention work his leg into shape for two-a-day practices, could put Clemson in a bind come next month.

If Chason can't go - for whatever reason - his backup at the moment is a young man named Chris Wiskell, a graduate student from Mt. Pleasant. Wiskell, who only joined Clemson as a walk-on a year ago, never played high school football. And despite reports of his great leg strength, it's hard to imagine Bowden feeling comfortable with a punter who hasn't played in a competitive football game since at least middle school.

That's why it should come as no surprise that at least one other walk-on candidate will be invited to practice beginning Aug. 6, and it must be noted that kicker Stephen Furr is also listed on the roster as a punter. But Furr is nowhere to be found on the current depth chart.

And if that's not enough to worry about, don't forget that the only place kicker on Clemson's roster with a live, in-game scoring opportunity is walk-on Fletcher Anderson, who hit his only extra point attempt last season. Jad Dean, though he was Bowden's man on kickoffs all last year, attempted neither an extra point or field goal.

Furr, also a walk-on, also has zero career opportunities in each category.

Given the awful memories of Clemson's special teams problems of two seasons ago, you have to figure both positions will receive extra attention during fall practice.

Whether or not they come along quickly enough could be the difference between a good season and a great one.

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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