Powell searching for consistency on special teams

by - Senior Writer -
Richard Jackson has a chance to punt and kick this season

CLEMSON – The Clemson special teams units were a mixed bag last season – electrifying returns by C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, the hot start by placekicker Richard Jackson, the missed extra points. Even the coverage teams had their highs and lows.

Special teams coach Andre Powell said last week that he realizes Spiller and Ford will be missed, but what he hopes to find is the consistency that mark good teams, and he hopes it starts with incumbent kicker Richard Jackson, who started off the spring on a high note, but like last season dipped towards the middle.

“Richard started off on fire, man,” Powell said of Jackson. “I mean, at one point he was kicking in the high 80s [percentage-wise]. The national average on field goals is 72 percent. He was kicking in the high 80s. And I felt pretty good about it. But he took a dip in the latter part of the spring. If you just look at the percentages, he did have the highest percentage.

“But it was not the separation from first to third [team] you'd like to see. He'll be the starter coming into the fall because he was the starter last year and no one beat him out. But you'd like for it to be hands-down better. It was better, but it wasn't what I wanted to see."

Jackson also punted well during the spring, and Powell was asked if Jackson was a legitimate threat to take the punting duties from Dawson Zimmerman, who punted 55 times last season for a 39.1-yard average.

"If you watched the spring game, he is. What a lot of folks don't understand is, some of those punts were too long to cover,” Powell said. “If you start kicking punts 65, 70 yards, Richard is going to be the guy that has to make the tackle. He's got a strong leg. The boy is talented. He'll be legitimate competition. 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 covering punts. But he didn't. Any time you get healthy competition is good. Richard gets the ball off quick. He has good hands. We'll let them roll out there and we'll play the best one."
Missed field goals and missed extra points hurt Clemson in several close games, and Powell said that learning to be consistent on the collegiate level all starts with the mental approach.

"It all starts mentally. The more I learn about kicking, the more I learn it's a very difficult skill,” he said. “We have a tendency to say, 'Just go kick the ball.' Well, as many good athletes as we have on the team, no one else can go out there and kick field goals. C.J. couldn't kick a field goal, and he was the best athlete we've got. Jacoby couldn't kick a field goal. It's all mental - lining up properly, proper foot placement. The difference between your toe being even with the ball or your heel being even with the ball - that could be a huge difference 30 yards down the field.

“Or your plant foot being the length of your foot away from the ball as opposed to half your foot length away from the ball could be the difference between wide right and wide left. The snap, the laces being turned, the ball being tilted toward the holder two inches - all those things are a factor. And when a field goal doesn't go through, you've got to look at all those factors.”

Powell said that after reviewing game tape from the 2009 season, however, he realized that bad snaps were also an issue on several kicks.

"When I went back and studied last year's field goals, we had too many snaps that were inside or outside of the holder,” Powell said. “It just throws everything off. That's a lot of factors. But I still think it's mental with Richard."

Marcus Gilchrist and DeAndre McDaniel each showed flashes of being dangerous in the kickoff return game during spring practice, but Powell said that finding out who is going to be the main returners will have wait until the fall, simply because emphasis was placed on other areas during the spring.

"We didn't work much at all on kickoff return this spring,” he said. “I think we worked on it twice. The emphasis was punt and punt return. Punt because we've been first or second in the league in everything I've been here except punt. I don't think we've cracked the top half of the league in punt. So that's what the emphasis was. So in order to give us good work with good on good, we worked punt versus punt return.

"Obviously we lost two returners who have been the main returners for four years. The only other guys that we've used are Gilchrist and DeAndre. Gilchrist has returned them in a game. We'll worry about kickoff return in the spring. We really didn't lose anybody up front in the scheme. And it's a lot easier to catch those kickoffs than punts, so we really didn't work much on kickoff return."

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