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Special Teams

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Greg Huegel

Will Spiers

Alex Spence

B.T. Potter

Carson King

2018 Season Preview

Despite the loss of Greg Huegel to an ACL tear in late September, Tiger special teams improved for a 2nd straight year. Of course, there was nowhere to go but up after the 2015 season, but it was nice to see a 2nd straight year of improvement. Alex Spence stepped in for Huegel and was a liability initially. He missed an XP against BC, and 4 FGs in three weeks following that. He missed 2 FGs (35, 38) in the 3 point loss to Syracuse. Dabo brought in Drew Costa to challenge Spence and that seemed to do the trick. Spence finished the season by making 7 of 8.  Huegel, who did try uncontested kicks in the spring game, is expected to be ready to return in fall camp to challenge Spence for the starting job.

On kickoffs, Spence operated at a low 25% touchback rate (Huegel was at 52% when he got hurt), but our coverage unit was solid last year. Clemson finished 24th in the country in kickoff efficiency. The Tigers will be without coverage team stalwarts Dorian O’Daniel and Ryan Carter this season. O’Daniel, especially, will be missed.

As expected, Will Spiers ended up being an upgrade over Andy Teasdall at punter. However, the coverage unit experienced some dropoff that led to a lower efficiency rating from the punt team. Carson King had a monster spring game punting the ball and is expected to challenge Spiers for the starting job in fall camp.

The Tigers finally put together a solid season returning punts. Ray Ray McCloud held onto the ball this year and kept the PR job. He averaged 12.1 yards per return and had a memorable TD return against N.C. State.  McCloud has moved on, so the Tigers will be looking for a new PR this year.

Thanks to the defense, we didn’t do a whole lot of returning kickoffs last year, so maybe Clemson should get a pass on finishing 102nd in KRs. Travis Etienne was the primary returner, and while it looked like he might break one at some point, it never happened.

Newcomer B.T. Potter enters the fold at K and could possibly land the kickoff duties if the staff elects to lighten the workload on his leg.

Fall Camp Depth Chart

PK: Alex Spence or Greg Huegel
KO: None
P: Will Spiers, Carson King
KR: None
PR: None
LS/PK: Patrick Phibbs, Austin Spence
LS/P: Austin Spence, Patrick Phibbs
Holder: Will Swinney, Will Spiers

Obviously, the #1 ST story in fall camp is going to be Greg Huegel’s health. Despite the fact that Spence was solid at the end of the season, there were times where we elected not to attempt a FG due to his limited range. Huegel has better range and, seemingly, more of the all-important clutch gene.

The #2 ST story is the battle at punter between Will Spiers and Carson King. King was vastly improved in the spring game and was booming punts throughout the whole game. Was that an aberration or King’s coming out party? I think it’s the latter, however, with the history of the Spiers name at Clemson, it won’t be a shoo-in. Spiers should get every opportunity to hold on to the job.

Season Depth Chart

PK: Greg Huegel, Alex Spence, B.T. Potter, Steven Sawicki
KO: B.T. Potter or Greg Huegel
P: Carson King, Will Spiers
KR: Derion Kendrick, Travis Etienne
PR: Amari Rodgers, Derion Kendrick
LS/PK: Patrick Phibbs, Austin Spence
LS/P: Austin Spence, Patrick Phibbs
Holder: Will Swinney, Hunter Renfrow, Will Spiers
Coverage Standouts: Tanner Muse, Tre Lamar, Chad Smith, Jamie Skalski, J.D. Davis, Kyle Cote, Cornell Powell
Newcomers with ST Potential: Hall Morton, K.J. Henry, Baylon Spector, Mike Jones, Jake Venables, LeAnthony Williams, Mario Goodrich

I like Huegel to win back the PK job this fall, but I like Potter to be the kickoff specialist. Potter was one of the best kickoff men in the nation as a high school senior, so why wait to get that party started. I expect Spence to get some opportunities as well though.

I like Kendrick and Rodgers to be the primary return men this year. Rodgers is clearly the best PR man on the team, so I would be shocked if he is not the starter there. Kendrick has a lot of potential as the KR, and this would be a great way to get the ball in his hands every game. I’m not a fan of Etienne being back there since there is an injury risk and he is so valuable to the offense as a RB.


The Kraken Depth Chart

PK: Greg Huegel, Alex Spence, B.T. Potter, Steven Sawicki
KO: B.T. Potter or Greg Huegel
P: Carson King, Will Spiers
KR: Derion Kendrick, Cornell Powell
PR: Amari Rodgers, Derion Kendrick
LS/PK: Patrick Phibbs, Austin Spence
LS/P: Austin Spence, Patrick Phibbs
Holder: Will Swinney, Hunter Renfrow, Will Spiers
Coverage Standouts: Tanner Muse, Tre Lamar, Chad Smith, Jamie Skalski, J.D. Davis, Kyle Cote, Cornell Powell
Newcomers with ST Potential: Hall Morton, Baylon Spector, LeAnthony Williams, Mario Goodrich

The primary difference from the Season Depth Chart is that I’d take Etienne totally off of kick return and put Cornell Powell in as the backup to Kendrick. On the Newcomers with ST potential list, I also pulled out the guys I think should redshirt. I would also make Alex Spence the primary XP kicker since that is an area that Huegel has had some difficulties there in his career. This would also give Spence some game work and keep him engaged.

2017 Fall Preview

Fall Camp, Season, and The Kraken Special Teams Depth Chart

K: Greg Huegel, Alex Spence or Christian Groomes

P: Will Spiers, Carson King, Michael Batson

KR: Tavien Feaster, C.J. Fuller, Cornell Powell

PR: Ray Ray McCloud, Cornell Powell, Amir Trapp, Tavien Feaster

LS: Austin Spence, Patrick Phibbs

Holder: Hunter Renfrow

Returning ST Standouts: Dorian O’Daniel, Tanner Muse, Tre Lamar, Jamie Skalski, Chad Smith, J.D. Davis

Newcomers with ST Potential: Nolan Turner, A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Simmons, LaSamuel Davis, Shaq Smith

Greg Huegel remains the Tiger kicker for the third year in a row, and he’ll likely be the kicker for a 4th year in 2018. He is All ACC material with All American potential.  He improved last season over the year before as his leg strength and nerves got better from where he was as a Freshman, missing only 2 XPs as a Sophomore after missing 5 as a Freshman. Although he missed more FGs last year, he also improved his range and tried more long ones. His range is right around 50 now. His Touchback % on kickoffs improved from 27% to 38% last year as well, showing an increased leg strength. A trend from the past two years is that he loses leg strength late in the season.  I hope we see Christian Groomes or Alex Spence handle more kickoffs this year in order to preserve Huegel’s leg.

The big special teams news out of the spring was the emergence of Will Spiers at punter. He is another guy, along with Dawkins Jr. and Trapp, that are just out there to make me feel old as sons of former players. Actually, not really, the guy can boot it. Spiers consistently got good hang time on his punts and easily secured the job of punter over King and Batson. One of his punts was a monstrous 62-yarder. Another died at the 1, but Mullen accidentally knocked it in the EZ. Spiers also showed the ability to execute the end-over-end rugby punts that Teasdall used successfully at the end of last year.   I expect Spiers to be an upgrade over Teasdall this season.

The kick return job should be Feaster’s to lose after the departure of Artavis Scott. Although, C.J. Fuller has some momentum here after his huge return against Alabama to set up the NC winning drive.  Cornell Powell also has a ton of potential and could be in the mix as well.

I think we all want Ray Ray McCloud to win the punt return job after his electric start last season. Early in the year, he was leading the nation in punt return average. Then, the fumbles started happening and he lost Dabo’s trust. RRM ended up being removed from the job and replaced by Artavis Scott, which initiated a return to our “Fair Catch University” strategy of the past several years.  If RRM could hold the job, this could be an early boon to an offense that will be breaking in a new QB this year.

The holder job is Hunter Renfrow’s now which makes a lot of sense. His hands are like glue and he played QB in high school in case we have a bad snap and have to run a fire drill.

Three of our four best special teams players return in 2017. Dorian O’Daniel, Tanner Muse, and Tre Lamar should be out there for all special teams except for FG/XP team.

Pre-Spring 2017

After three horrendous years on special teams, the Tiger coaching staff was able to stop the bleeding in some of the worst areas last season.  It wasn’t perfect by any means, but special teams were no longer an anchor either.  We all remember how Special Teams were the difference between being a National Champion and National Runner-Up in 2015, so in the offseason, the coaching staff sought out consultation to fix the problem.

The biggest improvement came where we needed it most, on our kickoff coverage team. Opponent Kickoff Returns went from being ranked 116th to 48th nationally.  The Tiger kickoff team did not allow a TD on a return after allowing 3 in 2015. This was fantastic improvement and the staff’s plan to implement new ideas definitely paid off.

Of course, scheme is one of three vital parts of special teams and probably the least important to be honest.  Player Skill Set and Mentality are the most important parts of being good on special teams. Skill set has played a role. There is an art to being a special teams player and it is something the staff would be well served to keep in mind when recruiting. We have missed on some guys that weren’t really so good on coverage teams and removed some guys that were excellent.

The biggest problem, in my estimation, has been mental in the form of effort level and desire.  Often, players will use special teams as a 3/4 speed formality to get back to offense/defense. This is why 2nd and 3rd teamers are typically on special teams, because this is their one time to shine and give max effort.  Some misinterpret this and think that special teams don’t matter as much.  Hopefully all of that is behind us now.

FEI Special Teams Rank

  • 2007, 45
  • 2008, 34
  • 2009, 17
  • 2010, 51
  • 2011, 35
  • 2012, 30
  • 2013, 93
  • 2014, 98
  • 2015, 116
  • 2016, 65

Moving on this year will be Andy Teasdall.  Teasdall generated optimism in the spring game by having one of his best performances as a Tiger.  As it turned out, it was just a good game and Clemson was even worse in punting than they were in 2015. Clemson dropped from 105 to 117 in punting last year.  Teasdall did develop a very effective rugby punt for the playoffs, but perhaps it’s a good thing that he has expended his eligibility.

Chris Gardocki

Chris Gardocki

Teasdall will be best remembered for 2 plays that happened in back to back games in 2015.  One was when he called his own number on a fake punt against UNC and got an extended ear-full from Dabo.  The other was when he completed a pass to Christian Wilkins on a fake against Oklahoma.

We will have to find a new starting punter beginning this spring.  This staff has prepared for this moment by bringing in a few options the past couple of years.  The favorites for the job include Alex Spence, Carson King, Michael Batson and Will Spires. I was not impressed with what I saw in the spring game last year, although, Batson’s one punt last year did go for 46 yards.

The Grocery Store Kicker, Greg Huegel, has been a tremendous find. He rescued us from kicker purgatory when Ammon Lakip was arrested before the 2015 season and hasn’t looked back. Last year, he was a Lou Groza Award Semifinalist and 2nd team All ACC.  Huegel has had an issue with missing extra points. This is obviously one of the unexplainable mental quirks that we see with kickers all the time. He missed 5 in 2017. Last year, he cut it down to 2. Huegel also raised his Touchback % on kickoffs by 10% last year, however, that still leaves him in the middle of the pack nationally. There is room for improvement there. The door is open for either Alex Spence, Christian Groomes, or Jamie Skalski could to assume kickoff duty.

Dorian O’Daniel returns this year with the title of best special teams player.  He has the right combination of skill set and desire. His coverage ability is NFL level and so often, that is the difference between making an NFL roster and not making one. Tre Lamar and Tanner Muse have also been effective on coverage teams. This year, we get an influx of new guys with the right skill set for coverage teams.  Isaiah Simmons, Nolan Turner, A.J. Terrell, and Brian Dawkins Jr. lead my list of potential candidates to step in and be effective new faces in coverage.

Kickoff Returns remained middle of the pack with Artavis Scott and C.J. Fuller doing the honors last year.  Clemson has still not had a KR TD since Sammy Watkins’ return against Maryland in 2011.  It will be very interesting to see who takes Scott’s position this year.  One could speculate that the next man up would be Fuller and he would just slide over to the right side to be the primary returner.  However, Ray Ray McCloud, Amari Rodgers, Deon Cain, Cornell Powell, and of course, Tavien Feaster all seem likely to get an opportunity to show what they can do.


Nelson Welch prepares to kickoff.

We finally seemed to fix the Punt Return issue we have had since C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford graduated in 2009.  Ray Ray McCoud was electric at the beginning of the year, and at one point, was leading the nation in PR average.  Unfortunately, RRM would get the plug pulled on him because of ball security. There was, of course, the ridiculous ball flip at the goalline that cost us our 2nd PR TD since 2009 (Humphries, UL, 2014).  Then there were the bobbled catches when he tried to run without securing the ball, the backwards running when he did get it, and general lack of improvement in those areas after being counseled by Dabo constantly.  So, Dabo decided to go back to being “Faircatch University” again. So, will RRM get another shot this year?  I think the answer is yes. What will he do with it though?

DaleHatcherClemson blocked 5 kicks/punts last year and that was a 10 year high. On the flipside, our own Punt and FG protection has been very good with Christian Wilkins leading the way there.

Donald Igwebuike

Donald Igwebuike put most of his kickoffs through the opposing goalposts.









Obed Ariri

Obed Ariri












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