Tigers getting extra work this spring on kickoff coverage and returns

'It's an area where we have to improve...We were inconsistent in our kickoff coverage, and it hurt us'

Clemson punter Bradley Pinion tackles North Carolina State's Tobais Palmer during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson punter Bradley Pinion tackles North Carolina State's Tobais Palmer during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

With 7:07 remaining in the third quarter, after a 50-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson led Florida State 31-21 at Tallahassee and appeared well on its way to securing driver's seat position in the ACC's 2012 Atlantic Division race.

Not much more than 10 seconds later, Clemson's season pivoted on a kickoff coverage lapse. Lamarcus Joyner streaked 90 yards for a first-and-goal inside the Tigers' 10-yard line, and EJ Manuel converted the opportunity with a touchdown toss to Rashad Greene.

FSU grabbed the momentum and rode it to a 28-0 avalanche.

Clemson ran the table on the remainder of its ACC opponents; but the damage was done. The two teams tied for the Atlantic Division title, but the Seminoles played for - and won - the ACC championship based on their tiebreaker advantage over the Tigers.

It wasn't the only kickoff coverage lapse that the Tigers suffered last season. N.C. State turned its game at Death Valley into a track meet via a string of kickoff returns, and there were others, as well.

On the other side of the kickoff coin, Clemson's return game was anemic, despite its abundance of playmakers.

With those deficiencies in mind, Dabo Swinney has made special teams a top priority for the Tigers this spring.

"It's an area where we have to improve," Swinney said. "We've been working hard on it all spring. We were a really good field goal team, a solid punt team, and a good field goal-block team. But we were inconsistent in our kickoff coverage, and it hurt us."

During the Tigers' first full-scale scrimmage last week, the team worked on live kickoff, live kickoff return, live punt and live punt return.

Swinney said the Tigers' kickoff coverage problems had two sources.

"Some of it was inconsistency with placement of the ball, and some of it was inconsistency in coverage," he said.

An element missing from the Tigers kick coverage team next season will be Spencer Benton, who set a school record for tackles by a kicker.

Swinney said the kick return game is getting the same kind of attention as coverage.

"We weren't the type of return team we needed to be, either," he said. "It's the first time since I've been here that we didn't take one to the house. So that's been a big emphasis all spring. We need to improve in all those areas."

Swinney said rising sophomore Bradley Pinion is working as the Tigers' first-team punter and second-team placekicker behind Catanzaro.

"I feel good about Pinion," Swinney said. "I think he has a chance to be special as a punter and as a kicker. He's a long way from being a zero as a field goal guy. He'd be a six or a seven. He's pretty good, and that's not his main craft."

Swinney said that walk-on Corbin Jenkins has been solid, as well. "He doesn't have the range of the other guys, but he's really stepped up," he said. "He's also been holding or us. We've been looking at some different holders, because we lost Spencer Benton, who was sort of a utility man for us. Also, Daniel Rodriguez is holding."

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