Once again everyone must be reminded that it is early AND the coaches and players can dictate what gets out to the media (for the most part). Also, we are just hearing opinions about practice and we all know that things change when you lace them up on Saturday...so take it for what it's worth.
We are hearing from all areas of this program that year two is providing the players and coaches with the experience needed to embrace new coaching strategies, get more experience for the offensive line, and get over all the bad habits that this program developed before Swinney took the helm (and no, I am not ready to anoint Dabo the next savior, just realize that the ship appears to be a little tighter now than when he was the receivers coach--and I have heard that he is a good Christian man also).
We will expand upon how veteran depth and an extra year in a different direction may effect this team.
To begin, I am quietly encouraged by our offensive line. Clemson has experience here for the first time in a while. While I am not convinced that this offensive line will be the '87 Redskins, it is nice to have a little continuity there. That being said, we should all say an extra prayer each evening that the starters all stay healthy. While we have heard some praise for some of the younger guys, Brad has enough trouble developing players in 4-5 years so you connect the dots there.
Hot Rod is emerging to give this squad what we hope is a pretty good third team running back. He keeps on receiving praise and keeps on putting up good (practice) numbers. Depth is critical in all areas of a football squad and having another quality back is a real asset moving forward.
I have heard a lot of differing stories about the Clemson receivers. Personally, I won't get excited until I see a group of guys who run good routes, catch passes that are catch-able, and do a good job blocking. For this offense to work this season, Clemson has to at least get decent production out of this group and take some of the pressure off of the TE and backs to do everything (like last season). The coaching staff remains high on Jaron Brown. I really hope that a "raw but talented" Clemson receiver can finally make it happen in Tigertown.
Reports out of this morning's practice pinned Brown and Marquan Jones (along with Xavier Dye) taking the first team reps. I will admit that I am encouraged that a couple guys are sacking up and displacing Clear and Ashe. We will get decent snaps out of Brandon and Terrance this year but need some other folks to step up and make things happen. The guy that I have yet to talk about is Bryce McNeal. I am eager to see this young man after all the work he put in since he first arrived from Minnesota. Apparently a wide variety of receivers have been making a few catches of late so maybe we can be a little more unpredictable this season in the passing game.
Now, on to the spot that will make or break us this season...the linebackers. Year two in Bama was a huge turnaround season for Steele's group of backers. We are sincerely hoping that this group can utilize the off season preparation and the personnel adjustments to improve on a tough '09. This defense can be very good if this group gets it together and plays solid fundamental football. Today it was Willard, Hawkins, and Christian with the first team.
To this point, I will admit that I am extremely discouraged about our special teams, particularly the place kicking. If you cannot kick with no pressure, there is no way that you can kick in the heat of battle. I have heard nothing positive about this part of the game to date. One of these kickers needs to get it together or else you will see a lot of fourth down conversion attempts from the opponent's 20-30 yard line. I will also remind everyone that poor special team's play (especially lots of missed kicks) will royally PO the authors of this site. Since, as we have stated before, think there are better candidates to fill Powell's position, we expect Powell's special teams group to at least get points on the board when called upon (relatively) deep in the opponent's territory.
That's all I got (and it is still mid-August), so take it for what it's worth!