Some of the most important position battles of Clemson’s spring and fall football practices will take place on special teams.
The Tigers are replacing their punter, holder, long snapper and kickoff/punt returner from last season.
Clemson’s special teams improved significantly in 2016, but the unit will have to rely on inexperienced players to avoid taking a step back 2017.
Greg Huegel, Clemson’s field goal kicker since the beginning of the 2015 season, is Clemson’s lone returning starter among specialists. Huegel handled field goals, extra points and kickoffs last season and is 41-of-51 (80.4 percent) on all field goal attempts through two seasons.
Long snapper Austin Spence appeared in two games as a redshirt freshman last season.
Ray-Ray McCloud was Clemson’s leading punt returner last season, with 176 yards on 21 returns, but he was benched after fumbling six times in Clemson’s first 11 games.
Tavien Feaster had seven kickoff returns for 141 yards last season, while C.J. Fuller had three kickoff returns for 53 yards.
Clemson did not add any designated specialists in its scholarship class of recruits, but the Tigers could still add walk-ons to compete at punter or long snapper. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says his son, preferred walk-on wide receiver Will Swinney, is a candidate to be the team’s holder.
Will Spiers is a candidate to be the team’s punter after redshirting last season. Patrick Phibbs is a candidate at long snapper, although he did not play as a redshirt freshman.
Huegel is likely to continue handling all of Clemson’s placekicking duties in 2017. He’s not elite on kickoffs, but he showed improvement last year.
The punter battle is wide open, but Spiers could be the favorite to ultimately emerge with the scholarship. Swinney says the winner of the punting competition will be placed on scholarship this fall.
As the only long snapper on Clemson’s roster with any experience, Austin Spence is the likely favorite to win that job.
Feaster and Fuller performed well enough in a limited capacity last season to get the first crack at being the lead kickoff returners this year. McCloud has the potential to be one of the best punt returners in the country, but he must prove he can hang onto the ball.