This is a group this season that was headlined by senior speedster Jacoby Ford. Other than Ford, the recievers came into the season without much game experience, which was apparent for most of the season from all players not named Jacoby. As a unit, the receivers had many shortcomings this season including inconsistency and virtually no depth. Overall, the staff did a good job after the Maryland game of realizing how inconsistent this group was and severely limited personnel packages and how the football was distributed.
Jeff Scott, the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, experienced many of the same issues that his corps of pass catchers suffered from being under any first year coach. You all probably remember that Scott was the holder for Clemson for several seasons in the early '00's, was promoted from graduate assistant to WR coach after Tom Bowden's departure, and is the son of current Clemson coach Brad Scott.
How we evaluate a WRs coach
- Recruiting - Scott has the additional title of Recruiting Coordinator
- Route running
- Passing production - keeping in mind that Parker's accuracy is questionable at times
Before we can get into the players, we must evaluate the position coach in recruiting. Jeff Scott, the youngest member of the staff at 29 years of age, leads this group in his first full season as an assistant coach--follow Jeff on Twitter here. Scott had a limited recruiting role last season, but was able to land Rivals 4-star stud Bryce McNeal from Minneapolis, Minnesota (mainly due to persistence as a grad assistant). For the '10 class, Scott is listed as the primary recruiter for former Gaffney QB/WR/DB (and future Clemson WR) Joe Craig and Chester OL Kalon Davis. In a small surprise, Tavaris Barnes was swayed away from Florida State on his official visit (Jan 9 weekend), thus his stock obviously moved up as a recruiter. Currently, these efforts (with the exception of plucking McNeal out of the mid-west) are about average as I think the Gaffney native was going to Tigertown all along. We were essentially his only offer since he committed so early. I was pleased to see Barnes turn a soft FSU verbal into a Clemson commitment on his official visit. Scott's formal territory is the Upstate SC region (Spartanburg, Gaffney, Rock Hill regions) and the area around Jacksonville Florida.
Jeff Scott has the additional title of Recruiting Coordinator, meaning most fans will put the success of the recruiting class on his shoulders when it does well. This is actually not a totally correct assumption, as the coordinator is merely that, a coordinator/director of recruiting. Its an administrative title that doesnt carry the power of an offensive or defensive coordinator. He does not decide who we go offer or who goes after them, that decision is one made by the full staff with approval from Swinney. However, he does have a say in how the regions of each position coach are decided/divided up. Each coach has a specific region in SC to recruit, as well as out-of-state regions (Brooks for example has a good portion of the region surrounding Beaufort, as well as a large chunk of NC), the position coach does not recruit only players to his own position. Each player offered by the offensive staff is seen by the entire offensive staff and the coordinator and relevant position coach decide who gets an offer. This Clemson staff is far more deliberate in how they go about deciding who gets a Clemson offer. However, we will expect the Rec. Coordinator to pick up slack when a specific player, being recruited by a specific coach, hasn't been contacted because of time constraints during the season. This is something I have not heard of Jeff Scott doing. It does not appear to be a focus of Dabo to recruit during the football season.
What does the RC actually do? He is responsible for weeding through some film on players from HS coaches who want their guys looked at. The film goes to him first. He maintains the staff database on prospects and compiles their information, and handles any kind of transcript/academic issues with the AARC. In actual recruiting, he keeps tabs on what each coach is doing on the road, handling flights/travel, itineraries for coaches and official visits, assigns player-hosts, and the like. He deserves credit, but giving it all to him would not be right. Most credit should go to the actual recruiter and the head coach, who must close on a prospect.
We believe Jeff is doing an average-to-above-average job in recruiting currently (not quite what you would expect out of the recruiting coordinator--see above for those duties), and generally has gone unnoticed from last spring until the Barnes conversion, but with more time could develop into a good one. The WR and RB coaches should always be the two strongest recruiters on the offensive side of the ball. Given that an excellent recruiter is held off the road in an administrative position, and who has a proven record coaching WRs (Woody McCorvey) we feel that an upgrade could definitely be made.
We flagged WRs as a possible problem source before the season began. Check out our preseason WR notes to get a better indication of how the Tigers started the season at the receiver position.
The Tiger's wide receiver crew has been extremely inconsistent with an obvious lack of quality depth. Clemson has three wide receivers that the staff is comfortable playing and trusting to actually catch the football. All season we have noticed poor route running and down field blocking early in the year (I will admit that the down field blocking improved dramatically over the course of the season). During the first few games, Clemson's backs had numerous opportunities to turn nice gains into monster runs, yet down field blocking has hampered these efforts. This also improved as the Tigers WR personel became more static. A good example of this can be seen in the ACCCG, as Spiller would not have been able to break all those huge runs without acceptable perimeter blocking.
Clemson started the season attempting to get more receivers playing time due to the lack of incumbent experience and the staff still trying to separate performers from non-performers. Clemson greatly benefited from a static rotation (or in some cases non-rotation) of receivers as the season went along. The issue of dropped passes worked itself out over the course of the year, as CU limited tosses to receivers not named Ford and got better results out of Dye and Ashe (remember, Dye was benched early in the season for a drop against MTSU).
Finally, the most frustrating part of this whole thing is Clemson's inability to run consistent routes. I cannot tell you how many games we watched this season and noticed lackadaisical, rounded off routes. Proper routes are run at full speed and are sharp. For instance, a stop route should involve the receiver running wide open (in an effort to make the defender think it is a fly route) for 7-10 yards, break down, make a 45 degree turn (started by the receiver "ripping" the elbow through) and coming back to the ball. Similarly, a dig should push the defender, with separation coming off of a sharp 90 degree turn. Clemson had a tendency all season to round off routes.
Next season we will need to see Jeff Scott develop more depth. Clemson has to find a go-to receiver with the departure of Jacoby Ford. I expect to see Dye and Ashe (obviously) and hope to see McNeal on the field next year. I have heard nothing but good things about him to this point and have high expectations here. The existing receivers (particularly Brown, Clear, and Jones) have some work to do this off-season for this group to be dangerous.
The WR position is arguably the easiest spot on the field to coach. Our main problems out of the receivers is not a talent issue but more of a technique and repetition issue. I am not saying Clemson has the most talented receivers in the country, only that shortcomings arose from non-talent related issues like dropped passes. Just like anything else, catching passes is a product of repetition and proper technique (again, pretty simple...form a diamond with your thumbs and index fingers, extend your arms away from your body, point of the ball goes inside the diamond, softly squeeze the ball, and tuck). Blocking is more difficult, but can be mastered through repetition and effort. Route running is probably the simplest task in all of football, particularly when the receivers are not being jammed at the line. The key is being crisp. Push the defender and make sharp cuts.
Overall statistics (courtesy ClemsonTigers.com)
From a statistics standpoint, the numbers clearly show Clemson's reliance on one individual. Jacoby Ford was the most consistent and dependable receiver on this squad. Others saw a good bit of playing time (specifically Ashe and Dye) but were up and down for the most part of the season. The coaches made a definite point to get a lot of players touches early, but quickly realized (specifically after the Maryland game) that only a handful of these guys really needed to be on the field due to experience and abilities. Clemson suffered a lot of dropped passes earlier in the season. This simple fact limited the WR rotation and caused Swinney/Napier to call more pass plays involving backs and tight ends because they were not confident in the receivers' ability to come down with big grabs (for the most part).
We will start with the easy one first, Jacoby Ford. Ford was easily the most athletic and experienced receiver on this team. Jacoby is a player who has improved drastically over the course of his time at Clemson, evolving into a good pass catcher and viable threat on rushing plays. Early in Ford's career, he was a track-star who also caught a few fly routes and returned a kick. Now Ford is a legit receiver, utilizing more skills than his lightning fast speed. Ford has done a nice job improving both his catching ability and his route running. On top of these items, JF possesses world-class speed. Jacoby had 56 catches for 778 yards and 6 TDs through the air, with his biggest grab coming resulting in the game-winning overtime touchdown against Miami. Ford also had two 100-yard receiving games (Ga Tech in September and Virginia in November) and played a big role in keeping this offense moving. On the ground, JF contributed with 18 carries for 122 yards and 2 TDs. Jacoby saw a huge jump on productivity from his sophomore to junior season and continued this superior effort through the '09 campaign (stats). Ford was easily the best and most dependable all-around wide receiver on the 2009 squad and will be missed next season, see below for a late 2009 look at Ford and some career highlights.
Xavier Dye is a unique character for the Tigers. Dye was one of the two WR targets other than Ford that Kyle Parker looked to in key situations. Dye had issues early in the season, temporarily quitting the team two games into the '09 campaign due to being demoted from first to second team. Dye rejoined the team and regained his starting position and contributed to this team. Xavier leads all returning receivers with 14 catches for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns, with his best game including 3 catches for 68 yards and a TD against Florida State. Dye has all the physical abilities to be a good WR (6'4", 210 lbs running a 4.58 40 yard dash). I expect Dye to be the leader of this group in his senior season and make up for a lackluster (when compared to the expectations coming into school)career so far (24 catches, 311 yards, 3 TDs). I thought that Dye did the best job of the receivers blocking down field this season as we progressed, and this was a chief reason he remained in the lineup.
FSU TD grab:
Terrance Ashe was the other underclassman receiver to contribute significantly in '09. The former walk-on from Cheraw had a couple of big first down catches in the Miami game. Ashe gave the Tigers some quality snaps this past season, but will really have to work hard this off-season to stay ahead of his competition. Starter or reserve, Ashe will be asked to come in and contribute with some quality snaps, and will be as important as a blocker as he is a pass catcher. He does things right from some technique perspectives, but doesnt produce and doesnt have the innate ability others do. Therefore, he should be beatable by someone like Jaron Brown.
Marquan Jones will try to take J. Ford's place as the big play threat in 2010 and will be in the slot. Jones, who played for WR coach Jeff Scott at Blythewood, peppered the stat sheet with1 or 2 catches throughout last season. Jones did have a long TD reception in the season opener against MTSU, and received a tremendous amount of work with the first team in the preseason because of injuries that hampered Jacoby Ford this past August. M. Jones was expected to start in the slot position going into last spring, but proved to be too inconsistent in spring ball. Jones then got some work both in the slot and behind Jacoby Ford. Marquan had a couple of long grabs in '09 and has the ability (he had 8, yes 8 TD catches in one high school playoff game). The only question that remains for the junior WR is if he can become consistent enough for Clemson next season. We're not particularly encouraged at this point however.
Brandon Clear is another guy who needs to step up. Clear, better known for his MTV spot at Hoover High School than his role at Clemson, has the frame to be a nice possession receiver. Last season Clear had three grabs in blowout games. While we don't expect Clear to overtake Dye, we do expect him to be available and contribute with some first down grabs.
Bryce McNeal is a highly thought of redshirt freshman who originally committed to Michigan but ended up at Clemson. He will go into Spring as the #2 in the slot position behind Marquan. McNeal has used his redshirt season to get bigger and has put on some quality weight since arriving on campus. Bryce has stated several times that he didn't take the weight room seriously before coming to Clemson, but now has added about 20 "good" pounds to his frame. McNeal has adequate speed and can keep up with any of Clemson's '09 receivers other than Jacoby. I like everything that I have heard out of the Clemson camp on Bryce, and think that he will receive opportunities this fall to get some playing time, especially with the lack of proven depth this unit has shown.
Jaron Brown will receive every opportunity this season to get some playing time. He will be competing with Terrance Ashe for playing time at the flanker (Z) position. Brown saw action in the majority of the games last season, and contributed with three receptions. I am sure everyone out here remembers the screen pass he took to the house against Coastal and realized that Brown has some serious skills but has not been consistent enough to see considerable playing time to this point. I am expecting the RS Soph. to be more familiar with the playbook this spring and push Ashe as early as spring camp. This should be the season that JB takes all the raw talent that he possesses and turns it into real (productive) football play, he simply needs to become more consistent (i.e., cut down on mistakes), utilize his natural talents, and become more familiar/comfortable with his role in this offense.
Brandon Ford enters his sophomore season with a few options. Ford saw limited action last season, and will probably be listed as the third team split end behind Xavier Dye and Brandon Clear if the Tigers keep him listed as a receiver. Another possibility is for Ford to bulk up and make a position change to the tight end spot. This option makes sense with Clemson losing both Durrell Barry and Michael Palmer coupled with BF down the depth chart.
2010 CLEMSON RECEIVER RECRUITS
Martavis Bryant (T.L. Hannah) may be the most talented commitment currently on Clemson's board. Bryant is extremely talented and many expect him to come in and contribute next season. At 6-4 184 lbs, Bryant runs a 4.41 40 yard dash. With this his speed and size, MB is definitely a deep threat and you will see him playing outside (flanker or split end). Bryant has a long stride, and the staff will probably work on his mechanics getting off the football and up to full speed. If there are concerns for the CU staff, they include the need for Bryant to get stronger and improve his blocking skills. We all know that the weight room and training table forms these guys out of high school, so I would expect to see a little more weight on MB before it is all said and done. Getting MB bulked up a hair would probably be the sole reason for the staff to redshirt him. Hopefully his blocking woes are purely technique that can be refined through drills and proper instruction (I don't see a guy with his frame and quickness lacking the ability to block, so we are pretty confident that tweeking his technique should be what is necessary).
DeAndre Hopkins is also another great young talent. Hopkins is capable of playing on both sides of the ball, but we expect he will be WR. Hopkins doesn't have the blazing speed, but is quick, particularly off of the football. Hopkins catches the ball well and with proper technique. Look for the Tigers strength staff to work with him extensively also. He will almost certainly find the field next year in some capacity.
Joe Craig, a Gaffney native, will likely be redshirted for the 2010 season. Craig is pretty confident the Tigers will put him in the slot position, so we will project him there also based on his size, background, and raw athletic ability. Craig is nothing short of a raw athlete. At Gaffney, he played all over the place and simply made plays. He is both quick and fast and extremely difficult to tackle. At 6', 160 lbs, Craig will need to use his redshirt season to get stronger and put on some weight. JC will also need to work on basic techniques (getting off the LOS/ripping or swimming jams, route running, pass catching) at the wide receiver position. I suspect splitting his time between DB and WR in high school as a senior (and QB as a Junior) will require him to get more individual drill repetitions to master the above-listed items.
Here is how we think the Tigers will enter the 2010 campaign in August:
|* could be moved to TE|
|** assuming no RS|
The Verdict - Jeff Scott didnt seem to do any better a job in 2010 than Dabo Swinney has developing these backups in 2009, when many were redshirting. Clemson's WRs did not run crisp routes for the last few years aside from one or two players. Their route-running did not really improve at all. Only Jacoby Ford did the job from start to finish.
Downfield blocking was poor to start the season, but did improve throughout the season. The young backups have the size to do it, as nearly all of our outside (X/Z) players are tall guys.
As far as production, the numbers speak for themselves. We projected Jacoby to pull in 70 passes and he only pulled down 56. Xavier Dye or Ashe would be good for maybe one catch a game. This tells you that they are not getting open, as the route progression for a QB doesnt start with the TE or RB unless the play is designed to hit them.
However, given that its Jeff Scott's first year as a coach ever, we won't call for him to be fired yet. We simply believe the WRs must improve and that we should be hearing his name more this spring in Junior recruiting. If it doesn't, he should be removed after 2010.