Clemson's secret weapon

Clemson's secret weapon

Football

Clemson's secret weapon

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Pinion is pinning opponents deep

By Will Vandervort

Bradley Pinion seems to do it all when it comes to kicking at Clemson. He is averaging 43.8 yards per punt for third-ranked Clemson and 12 of his 13 kickoffs have been touchbacks. The only one that was not was returned from five yards deep in the end zone.

By the way, the Concord, N.C. native can also kick field goals as he will be used in situations that might involve him kicking a 60-plus yard field goal or something of that nature.

“Oh, I can do it. Definitely,” Pinion said earlier this week from the PAW inside the WestZone of Clemson Memorial Stadium.

But there is one thing the nation’s tallest kick—6-foot-6, 230 pounds—cannot do. He cannot drop kick a ball.

What’s a drop kick?  It involves a player dropping the ball and then kicking it when it bounces off the ground. If the kick is successful, then that team will receive one point. The drop kick can come at any point in the game, not just on extra points, which comes only after a touchdown.

The last successful drop kick in pro or college came from Doug Flutie, who drop kicked a ball through the uprights for the New England Patriots on New Year’s Day in 2006 against the Miami Dolphins. It was the last play of his career.

The last successful drop kick in the NCAA was by Jason Millgan of Hartwick College on December 11, 1998.

“Drop kicking is one of the hardest things to do in football so I would not be comfortable going out there and drop kicking the ball,” Pinion joked.

But luckily for Clemson (2-0) Pinion is comfortable doing everything else and so far through the first two weeks of the season he has become one of the Tigers’ best weapons in doing so.

“He was awesome,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He hung it up there and forced some fair catches. He pinned them deep and his kickoffs were incredibly consistent.”

How big of a weapon is Pinion exactly? So far the Tigers two opponents have had 32 possessions and their average field position is the 24-yard line.

“I just do the best I can,” the sophomore said. “Those things don’t really come to me during the game. All the coaches come to me afterwards and say ‘good game’ and things like that, but I don’t really think about it during the game.”

Against Georgia, Pinion had seven kickoffs that all settled in as touchbacks, while his seven punts were returned only once for four yards.

“I thought he was ready for the moment. I mean he really was,” Swinney said. “This is a young man that is a true sophomore and got some good experience last year and was ready to step out on that stage and perform at a high level and on a consistent level. That’s what we need from him.”

Last season, Swinney was sometimes criticized for burning Pinion’s redshirt as a backup kicker and punter, but Swinney defended himself by saying he did not want Pinion’s first collegiate action to come in a game the magnitude of the Georgia game. Obviously, Swinney decision to play Pinion as a freshman is already paying off.

“That helped me a ton,” Pinion said. “I hardly ever get nervous, but in the Georgia game I don’t think I was nervous at all. I was composed and was ready to go out there and do what I knew I could do.”

Pinion says he seldom kicks off the ball in practice, saying he needs to save his leg for game days because he knows the offense is going to score a lot. He says he still gets the reps he needs in practice but it is focused on different types of things instead of going out there and kicking balls.

Also, Pinion spent all summer kicking the ball as he traveled to special kicking camps across Georgia and South Carolina as well as practiced in his hometown of Concord.

“That really helped me go through the ball and everything,” he said. “I was just getting it so it would go out of the back of the end zone every single time. I worked on my consistency with it. I think that is what really helped me a lot.

“I knew it was going to be a big part of our game this year. This would be my year to show out, if I could show out.”

He is definitely showing out, even with his punts. Of his 11 punts this season, only two have been returned. Six have been fair caught, four have been downed inside the 20-yard line and five have traveled more than 50 yards.

But despite these good numbers and his 43.8-yard average, Pinion feels his punting still needs work.

“I think I can get more distance as well as hang time,” the sophomore said. “Hang time is one of the keys. I feel like I’m almost out-punting my coverage sometimes because I’m hitting a 55-yard ball, but it is not but a 4.6 hang time. I need to get more of a 5.0 hang time with it. Hang time is something I could improve on.”

He also says he needs to work on his placement.

“I can definitely improve on that,” Pinion said. “Like this past game we were supposed to go on a left punt then I hit it right. I hit a good ball, but it was not where it was supposed to go so it irked me a little bit. It is one of those things where all-around I can get more consistent with that.”

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