CLEMSON -- One of the great advantages the 2009 Tigers enjoyed and that last year's version lacked was impact players on special teams.
In 2009, stars C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford combined for six touchdown returns and helped Clemson to an average starting field position of its own 37 yard line. Last year, Clemson returned just one kick for a touchdown and had an average starting field position at the 32.
In Clemson's first practice in full pads Wednesday, five-star rated freshmen Sammy Watkins and Mike Bellamy each fluidly caught punts. Their speed offers the potential return of the home run to the return game.
"I think we have some really, really special return prospects," head coach Dabo Swinney said. "Guys like Watkins and Bellamy are the two fastest guys in the state of Florida. The whole state of Florida is counting on them and so are we. They are a couple guys who jump out at you. (DeAndre) Hopkins is money; you can count on him.
"I think we have a good problem."
Running back Andre Ellington is also an adept kick returner and was the only Tiger to return a kick for a TD last season. But with Ellington coming off December surgery and expected to receive the lion's share of the running game work, Swinney might opt to lean on one of his electric freshmen in the return game.
Swinney said in the first summer scrimmage Saturday he will place an emphasis on special teams work.
"I think that is something we have to really look at the next couple of weeks," Swinney said. "Guys have to be under the gun, you can't wait until game day to put a little pressure on them."
X marks the spot
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said junior Xavier Brewer and Martin Jenkins are competing for the nickel back position, which thanks to the proliferation of multiple-receiver, pass-heavy offenses has essentially become a part of the base Clemson defense.
Brewer, who struggled at times last season in his first taste of extended action, said he is much more comfortable this camp.
"The first time you get out there before 80,000 people it's like 'whoa,' " Brewer said. "I've matured. … With more knowledge you play faster."
DT Rennie Moore sat out practice with a twisted ankle, but Swinney does not believe it is serious… Swinney said Chandler Catanzaro is the leader for the place-kicking job, but added, "Right now it's too early to tell, but I'm not disappointed in anyone." …. Swinney said redshirt freshman defensive lineman Tavaris Barnes really stood out in the first day of pads. Barnes could provide interior pass rush for the Tigers. He can play both end and tackle.
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