Depth Chart, In-Depth: Special Teams
Holder: Spencer Benton (6-2, 195, senior, Myrtle Beach, S.C.) will open preseason drills as the Tigers' No. 1 holder - the same position he held when the season started a year ago. When Benton was injured making a tackle on a kickoff against Virginia Tech, Dawson Zimmerman stepped in as holder and retained that position after Benton returned from his injury.
Long Snappers: If last season's pattern holds, Benton will work with two different long snappers - Phillip Fajgenbaum (6-0, 220, junior, Raleigh, N.C.) on punts and Michael Sobeski (6-2, 195, sophomore, Roebuck, S.C.) on placekicks. Fajgenbaum started out last season doing both jobs, but Dabo Swinney and special teams coordinator Danny Pearman split the roles at mid-season, with successful results.
Working as backup snappers will be Sam Van Gieson (5-10, 185, senior, Greer, S.C.) and Jim Brown (6-3, 235, freshman, Walterboro, S.C.).
Kickoff Returns: Opposing teams may have an easier time keeping the ball out of the hands of Sammy Watkins (6-1, 200, sophomore, Fort Myers, Fla.) this season, thanks to new kickoff rules (kickoffs moved from the 30 to the 35, with receiving teams taking possession at the 25 after touchbacks).
The five-yard possession penalty may be well worth the tradeoff for the Tigers' opponents. Watkins' 826-yard return total last season was the ninth best in school history, and though he returned just one kickoff for a touchdown, looked a step away on numerous occasions throughout the season. For the year, he averaged 25.0 yards on 33 returns.
Sophomore Martavis Bryant (6-5, 205, Calhoun Falls, S.C.) is listed as the Tigers' second kickoff return man on the post-spring depth chart. He had two returns for a total of 45 yards last season.
Senior Jaron Brown (6-2, 200, Cheraw, S.C.) served as the Tigers' No. 2 kick returner last season, with 15 for a 20.5 average. Andre Ellington (5-10, 190, Moncks Corner, S.C.) had five returns for a 26.4 average, with a long return of 55 yards, while Charone Peake (6-3, 205, Moore, S.C.) had two returns for an 11.0 average.
Punt Returns: Watkins lobbied during the off-season for a chance to share punt return duties with DeAndre Hopkins (6-1, 200, junior, Central, S.C.), and will apparently get his opportunity.
Watkins returned two punts for a 6.0 average in 2011, while Hopkins returned 10 for a 4.9 mark. Overall, Clemson returned just 13 punts last season - fewer than one per game - and will be looking to boost that number this fall.
Kick Coverage: The recent recruiting boost to the linebacking corps and defensive secondary should mean increased options for Pearman as he assembles Clemson's coverage teams.
Overall Outlook: The Tigers' kickers will work with an experienced and proven snap-and-hold battery, and the return game will feature some of Clemson's most dynamic and dangerous playmakers.