August 28, 2009

Caroline's Tiger Pause: Clemson's 2009 Offense

I think most experts will agree that Clemson will be carried by our defense this year. There is a lot of offensive talent on Clemson's roster but there is also a great deal of inexperience at key positions. Last week I high-lighted the Quarterbacks and this week we will focus on the rest of the offense. This year I see the three biggest question marks being the receiving corp, the o-line, and the kicking game. If their play is better than expectations-it could be a special year. But with a new coach, a new offensive coordinator (though I could still dance in the streets over Spence being let go), a new offensive philosophy, and a new quarterback it is hard to forecast where this season will go.

The Clemson wide receiving corp will most likely be a true work in progress this year. After losing stand-outs Tyler Grisham and ACC reception and yardage leader Aaron Kelly the Tigers return a unit high in talent but low in experience. This young unit is lead by veteran speedster Jacoby Ford. Jacoby is deservedly a pre-season All-ACC selection and is arguably the fastest player in the nation. The fastest 40 run in the NFL combines was 4.3 this year and Jacoby has been clocked at a sub 4.1. Jacoby owns the ACC record in the 60 yard dash beating former Tiger Shawn Crawford's time. Shawn later went on to win the Olympic gold medal in the 200. Jacoby was the ACC and National Champion in the 60 this year, and was also the ACC champion in the 100, unfortunately he injured his hamstring during the race at Nationals this year. This will really be Jacoby's time to shine as he will be the go-to guy on game days this year. Jacoby has been an exemplary student athlete while at Clemson. He is a high character guy and a great leader for our young wide-outs. He and CJ Spiller combine to be the most intimidating return tandem in the country and just like Spiller, he is a home run threat every time he touches the ball-Jacoby has 6 Touchdowns for 50 yards or longer, 3rd in school history. Let us just hope his hamstring is healing and that he will be 100% September 5th.

Joining Jacoby will be a talented group of young men. Terrence Ashe is the other veteran on this young corp. He has been a great leader and a hard worker. He is not a flashy player but he is consistent and he is a very hard worker-he came to Clemson as a preferred walk on and earned a scholarship and a starting role on the team. Xavier Dye has been a terrific blocking receiver for 2 years and looks now to really up his reception production. Brandon Clear has been a terrific member of the scout team and after a very solid spring and summer looks to be headed for a break out year. He also has a twin brother, Byron Clear, who is a back up defensive end. Many of you may remember their father leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance from Iraq two seasons ago.

Marquan Jones has often drawn comparisons to Chansi Stuckey and we can only hope that is true. He is poised to become a real star and is also another speedy receiver. Jaron Brown has been the receiver stepping up and lighting up camp. He is capable of making truly spectacular catches and should see a lot of playing time because the staff has groomed him at both its “X” and “Y” positions. He could really challenge Ashe, in particular, for the starting role as the season goes on. Jaron will always hold a special place in my heart for sticking it to Carolina on signing day and choosing to become a Tiger at the last minute. Brandon Ford will also be a factor this year-he was 3rd in the nation his senior year in high school in receiving yards with 1722 yards and just has a way of coming down with the ball. The most interesting position battle of the year will be between Dye, Clear, and Brandon Ford to see who ends the season as the starter and star of this group.

Our receiving corp is a talented group of young men, but with the exception of Jacoby Ford they really lack experience. Be prepared for inconsistency particularly the first half of the season. I think you will see a spectacular catch followed by a dropped ball. This is a young unit and because of that there will definitely be growing pains. I do think this unit will start to mature and improve significantly as the year goes on. Jacoby Ford's senior season is going to be a real treat for all of us though. We will never have a faster receiver so enjoy every second of it. Because of the lack of experience this year I also think you will see more balls thrown to the running backs and tight ends than ever before.

The offensive line has been an obvious weakness the last few football seasons, and nothing is more pivotal to our success than a strong line. Clemson's starting five appears to be solid, however depth is still a real issue at offensive line. There is not an intact 2nd 5 and there in lies the problem. However, the line should definitely be an improvement over last year's and by all accounts new Tight End and Offensive Tackles coach Danny Pearman is a tough, hard-nosed, intense, enthusiastic coach who has quickly brought a lot of change and improvement to the line.

Thomas Austin is the senior leader of this still young group. Austin is projected by Mel Kiper Jr. as one of the top prospects at center in the 2010 NFL draft even though he currently plays left guard. He moved from center the second half of last season to increase the Tigers interior strength and size. Last year Austin was ACC lineman of the week 3 times (tied for the league high). He brings much needed leadership and experience to the line. It could be argued that Chris Hairston is the most valuable player on the line for two reasons-one reason is his play, he was the second-best lineman on the team last year, only behind Thomas Austin. The second reason is the depth at his position. There is a big drop-off between him and the second teamer and it is critical that he stays healthy this year. Also starting on the line will be Mason Cloy at Center who was a first team freshman All-American by He has been in a position battle all summer with Dalton Freeman-a talented center who plays with a mean streak. While Cloy will be the starter, Freeman will log significant reps throughout the season. Another big battle all summer has been for the starting right tackle position. Red-shirt senior Cory Lambert is the starter, for now. But Landon Walker is fighting him hard and the competition looks to be making them both better. Walker started 10 games last season and will be a huge factor on the line all year. Antoine McClain is the starter for right guard and he is the most talented and heralded lineman that Clemson has signed in some time. It is also extremely rare to get a top 100 player out of the state of Alabama, but luckily he chose to become a Clemson Tiger instead of sticking with the in-state schools. It is rare for a true freshman offensive lineman to be ready to play significant snaps, but he logged 149 last year and played in every game.

The o-line will be an improvement over last year, but this is still a young bunch of guys. If the defense can carry us through the first half of the season this group should really start to gel. Napier has been increasing the tempo and pace of practice to tire the line out, creating situations in the summer so the line can learn to push through the pain. Although there is some inexperience on the line to be sure, I think this will be a touch bunch of guys in the fall. But we definitely cannot afford any injuries to our starting 5.

Because of the lack of depth and experience at receiver this year the Tight End and Full Back positions become all the more important. I believe we will throw to the Tight Ends significantly more this year and how lucky we are to have such a talented group of guys. Both positions are a real strength for our team.

Michael Palmer is a senior leader of the '09 Tigers. He is a hard worker and incredibly tough (he played the '08 Virginia game with the use of only one arm because of injury). He also has a great enthusiasm for the game as evidenced during the Maryland game when he accidentally knocked then Tight End coach Billy Napier flat on his behind during a chest bump after a TD. He is one of the leaders of the team and looks to have a breakout all-ACC type season. He is able to contribute in both the passing and running games and is a terrific blocker.

The most talented Tight End on the squad is also the youngest. Red shirt freshman Dwayne Allen has all of the intangibles to leave Clemson as the top tight end in school history. He came to Clemson as the number 3 Tight End in the country. He won best hands in the Under Armour All-American skill challenge, a competition against some of the best receivers, tight ends, and defensive backs in the country. He also spurned Georgia on signing day much to my delight. He just moved over Durrel Barry in the depth chart to claim second string, so plan on seeing a lot of #89 this year. He is physically gifted and a dual-threat player-expect to see quite a few balls thrown his way. Because of how Clemson utilizes the Tight End position you will still see a great deal of Durrell Barry this year as well. He has soft hands and is quick and agile and gives us talented depth at this position.

Rendrick Taylor and Chad Diehl will line up at Full Back, H-Back, and possibly some Tight End this year. These two guys are very tough versatile athletes that will be used in a variety of ways. Rendrick will be a jack-of-all trades this year. You will see him catching the ball, blocking like crazy, and running in short yardage situations. I think his single biggest impact this year will come in short yardage situations. Good luck bringing him down on 3rd and 1. He will be used as a fullback, tailback, and flex tight end. He is huge-incredibly strong and surprisingly agile. If he can stay injury free watching his final year as a Tiger should be a real pleasure.

Diehl is a punishing blocker, some have even argued the best on the team. In the SC game we used Diehl as the lead fullback in the I-formation to great success-he opened up holes for Davis and Spiller all day. Diehl also will likely log snaps as a linebacker this year showing what a unique and versatile player he is-it is rare to have a guy play both sides of the ball in college.

Tight Ends and Fullbacks are a great strength on the offense this year. But the position that is unquestionably our strongest and most talented-what all our hopes are hung on-is the running back position. I can honestly say I would not trade backfields with anyone. I wrote a long article on Spiller already-this is his team and as he goes the season goes. I can't think of anyone's shoulders I would rather lay that burden on. Spiller is the most dynamic running back in the college game this year. And because of the lack of experience at receiver this year, count on watching Spiller catching more balls than ever before. Joining CJ are two more amazing running backs. Jamie Harper, like Spiller, was the #1 running back in the state of Florida his senior year. He is a power back, big and strong, but he is also surprisingly quick and nimble for a player his size. Last year his biggest impact was on special teams-I am sure all of you remember his blocked punt against the gamecocks that lead to a field goal:) ESPN considered Harper to be the #12 prospect in the nation regardless of position and the #3 running back his senior year. He is going to be a big impact player for the Tigers and both he and Ellington are future stars at Clemson.

Ellington and Harper are regarded by many to be Thunder and Lightning II. Ellington has already drawn numerous comparisons to Spiller. Ellington is fast, elusive, and shifty-and like Spiller he is a great receiver. He was tied for the most receptions in the spring game with 5. ESPN ranked Ellington the #44 player in the nation regardless of position and the #6 RB in the country his senior season. All of this incredible talent at the running back position has offensive coordinator Billy Napier wanting to keep it on the ground this season. We could even see formations that get all 3 of these dynamic players on the field at the same time. These backs all have an incredible amount of talent, power, athleticism, and speed. All 3 of them are great receivers, and they are going to be a ton of fun to watch. This is the unquestioned strength of our offense and if the line can open up some holes-watch out.

The Clemson offense is going to be a work in progress all season. There is a great deal of inexperience at some very key positions. But there is also a great deal of talent. Luckily we have a defense this year that can keep us in any game and one of the best running back units in the country. It is going to be interesting to see what the offense does this year at Clemson and how much they improve as the season progresses. There are also some depth issues, particularly on the line. There are some key positions that we simply cannot afford an injury in. If the offense stays healthy I think it will be among the better offenses in the ACC by the end of the season. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all comes together.

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Erin said...

Once again, a truly amazing article, Caroline! Thanks to you, I feel super prepared for next weekend. And my husband thinks your articles are great, too!

carolineb said...

That is so sweet! That made my night:) Have a great weekend

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