Here’s a little tidbit from a USA Today story about how Dabo Swinney went about fixing Clemson’s special teams’ shortcomings after last year’s national title game.
Though Alabama’s trouble converting field goals over the years receives a disproportionate amount of attention, the Crimson Tide are largely excellent on special teams because the depth of talent allows for Saban to employ several former five-star recruits — some of whom are a year away from being front-line players — on coverage teams. The Crimson Tide haven’t yielded a kickoff return score since the 2014 season opener and only had two punts returned for touchdowns in the last four seasons. Meanwhile, over the same span, Alabama has scored 12 special teams touchdowns.
The Crimson Tide were able to exploit that advantage last year against Clemson, which ranked 115th in kickoff coverage defense and gave up three touchdowns, revealing the overall immaturity of Clemson’s roster as a national contender.
Hey, guess who was 115th in kickoff coverage in 2016?
Therein lies the rub for Kirby Smart, who certainly saw first hand in Tuscaloosa what all that incoming talent built on Alabama’s coverage and return teams. But as Clemson showed, that doesn’t happen overnight. Then again, Clemson improved to 48th nationally this season.
Anyway, read the article in its entirety to see what Swinney did last offseason to address the problem. I don’t doubt that Kirby will take a hard look at shoring up an area of real weakness, one that cost his team a win or two. Whether the fix takes or not is just another thing we’ll have to watch for.