3-Way Battle

3-Way Battle

CLEMSON - It's not the most popular of topics amongst fans but there's a battle going on at punter that's worth talking about.

A quick glance at last year's special teams stats reveals the Tigers weren't all that when it came to punting.

Then a junior, former walk-on Jimmy Maners averaged 41.3 yards per punt, good enough for fourth in the ACC.

Not bad right?

Not bad unless you look at net punting, where Clemson ranked dead last in the league at 32.9 yards per punt.

"We need to get better height on our punts this year," head coach Tommy Bowden said. "We need to force more fair catches and usually that's a result of better hang time."

While Maners was effective at getting the ball deep downfield in 2007, too many times he outkicked his coverage by either kicking the ball too low, or even sometimes, too deep. As a result, Clemson ranked 115th out of 119 FBS teams last season in average punt return yardage allowed.

In addition, Maners only forced punt returners into eight fair catches- which was also one of the worst in the conference.

Not surprisingly he now finds himself in a battle with Richard Jackson and freshman Dawson Zimmerman for the starting position.

"Competition makes everybody better," Maners said. "We are all out there competing, trying to win the job so in the end that just makes us better and the team overall better. It's the nature of the position where you have to prove yourself."

Through preseason camp, each punter has done well at different times, including Maners, but one name seems to be coming up more than anybody else- Zimmerman.

Ranked as Scout.com's No. 3 punter in the class of 2008, Zimmerman has been mentioned more by Bowden after the end of each major preseason scrimmage than anybody else.

"He's kicked slightly better," Bowden said of his freshman punter. "We've been tracking every punt in every situation with each guy rotating through long snappers so no one can say they've had an edge over somebody else."

While Bowden has been reluctant to name a starter amongst the three punters, don't be surprised if it ends up being the true freshman.

Zimmerman had an outstanding career at Brookwood High School (Snellville, Ga.), breaking Jason Elam's (current Denver Bronco) high school record with a 74-yard punt during his junior season.

"I feel like I've done pretty good so far," Zimmerman told CUTigers.com. "We are all out there competing against each other. It would be nice for me to be able to play this season but if I end up redshirting, that's not the end of the world either."

Redshirt sophomore Richard Jackson, who was a Shrine Bowl performer during his senior year at Riverside High School, is also in the mix and has done well in recent weeks.

"It's nice to hear that I've been doing well," Jackson said when asked of his performance during preseason camp. "That's never a bad thing when coach Bowden has something good to say about you so hopefully I can continue to do well."

With just 10 days remaining until Clemson's season opener against Alabama, this battle could go down to the last couple of days of practice, and possibly even pre-game warm-ups in the Georgia Dome.

"I'm not sure when we'll name a starter," Bowden said earlier this week. "We'll see what happens."

Sure, it's not first position battle fans like to discuss at the water cooler, but it's just as important.

Go back and watch last year's game against Virginia Tech if you need further proof.

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