I wanted to state first, like I try to every spring and August, that no matter what you hear, don't raise your expectations based on all the reporters' hyping of each player each day of practice. I know we're all starved for football information and we tend to hang on every nugget of info that comes out like "Steele ran mostly nickel today"...which brings out questions like "Do you think Steele will run Nickel all season?"....or "Brandon Clear caught 7 passes and 3 TDs today"...which makes people think he'll suddenly take off once the season starts. In other words, there are alot of guys who are practice stars and spring stars, and yet never do squat. Kelvin Grant and Rendrick Taylor being prime examples. Wait a couple weeks then react to what you hear.
The first two weeks of fall practice are usually all installation. They run new plays and re-install everything so everyone has the formations and alignments down pat before they really start preparing, so don't react to every snippet that comes out. Just because the reports say we're running all I-formation in the first week doesnt mean we'll run all I-formation in Week 1, for example. It just means they are installing and repping plays from that formation. But there is one big question I have about Billy Napier that touches on that issue.
The Offensive Identity? What is it?
You all saw us in the first few games of last season. You had CJ Spiller, who was already injured by Maryland and it dragged on all year, not getting 25 carries per game. You saw us line up in more spread formations and constantly running heavy motion and not establishing the run game, and so we were unable to really generate the offense that we were capable of doing.
Then after Maryland, we went to our strengths. We decided to stop sending out 4 receivers who couldn't catch passes, and just send out the few guys that could (Palmer, Ford, Spiller), and began establishing Spiller in the running game. I am certain, though they denied it, that some other coaches were putting their fingers in on playcalls and overriding Billy. After that loss we went to what Billy Napier ran at Furman.
Now we have 4 OL returning, 2 RBs who can really play (and I think the 3rd can too), a FB who can knock your teeth in, and our QB. The starting WRs are the same as last year, except for Marquan, and none of the 3 did anything. What would you do with that?
You run the shit out of the ball. Line up in the I-formation and MAN UP on the line for the first time in years. No complicated blocking scheme, just hat on a hat. Run Andre til he's tired and then put in Jamie til he falls over. Then, you run play-action and find out which WR wants to step up before you really start opening up the passing game down the stretch this season when they start to stack the box. Run to set up the pass and find out which WR has decided to play ball.
If Clemson goes out there against NT and PC in trips right/left and doubles shotgun all day, they wont be playing to their strengths and we wont win at Auburn.
Going into the fall camp we have this depth chart, which doesnt include any thoughts on redshirts.
|Xavier Dye||Terrance Ashe||Marquan Jones|
|Brandon Clear||Jaron Brown||Bryce McNeal|
|Brandon Ford||DeAndre Hopkins||Joe Craig|
Terrance Ashe is suspended because he was present in the Cumbie incident and "wasn't being a leader" according to Dabo... he's in trouble for not stopping Cumbie from beating up Philip Prince II. Regardless, he'll likely be on the field for North Texas, so we can expect the top 3 across the board there to play. Ashe is not as talented as Jaron Brown, who we are pretty high on, so can Brown finally produce and take the starting job? If he doesn't, Hopkins will take it.
But what about Marquan? Will he ever produce like we know he can? Bryce McNeal caught a lot of passes in the spring practices I saw and the spring game, and now that his weight is up to 180-185 he's ready to push Jones. Joe Craig is just too raw to play and I expect a redshirt.
I doubt Clear takes the starting spot from Dye, and Ford is someone that comes to mind as a possible switch to a receiving TE position.
Position Changes to Look for...
Both Demont Buice and D.J. Howard were talked away from other schools because they wanted a chance to play RB. Buice was recruited as a LB by others and Howard a DB. We've got 3 guys on the chart now in Ellington, Harper and Rod McDowell who will get nearly all the snaps, and while I do believe Buice and Howard will RS, I would not be surprised if you saw a position change from one or both of them once they see the guys in front of them. They'll get a chance to play RB for sure, but by next year, knowing that Lane and Bellamy (assuming we hold them) are coming in, at least one will move.
Buice has the size to be moved to a FB position, but could also play LB. If Colton Walls doesn't move to FB, I'd bet on Buice doing so. He probably has a better chance to play at LB, at the moment, but there is no one behind Diehl. Longterm I just don't see him sticking at a RB position.
Howard will move to CB or SS, in my opinion. Its just a matter of when.
McDowell may eventually be used more as a slot WR, and a position change could be made now or next year. I saw him at Sumter and thought he would be a good RB, but his pass-catching skills are good enough to be more versatile.
Brandon Ford is a guy who has had the size to play a flexed-TE, and if he doesnt push at the outside WR spot, I could see an attempt to move him inside to a TE position and push Dwayne Allen. If not, I think Victor Beasley avoids a RS because we have no other receiving TEs.
There is always musical chairs played up front with Brad Scott running the show, so at this point I wouldnt be surprised of anything there. David Smith will probably be asked to play both inside and outside and not master either because of it.
On D, not much seems obvious to me. Gilchrist is one that can move around and do several things, and is starting out at CB with Maxwell. Linebacker is the question, and where the group of Maye, Willard, and Hawkins really ends up. Maye ended spring at Weakside but didn't lock that down (because of injury) over Tig Willard. All 3 are going to play and Parker may not be ready for the challenge at Strongside to push Christian.
About those Linebackers...
|Brandon Maye||Corico Hawkins||Quandon Christian|
|Jonathan Willard||Spencer Shuey||Scotty Cooper|
|Justin Parker||Daniel Andrews|
I know Willard was listed as tied or 1st at Weakside, but the experience in the defensive scheme will almost certainly become apparent in August and Maye will start. I do hope Willard absorbs enough to play significantly and actually let us substitute guys this year instead of running the same 2-3 almost all the time. What I saw in spring ball says that Willard will be the better LB if he chooses to be.
In all seriousness, Maye does need to play better in this scheme than he displayed last season, or he shouldnt start. I think Brandon has great speed and I like his tenacity, but sometimes he just didn't use his head. Like Steele said before MTSU last season, Brandon is more "Ready! Fire! Aim!" than "Ready! Aim! Fire!". If that can be reined back, he can stave off Willard.
Corico impressed me in the little play he got last year and in particular the bowl game. In spring he appeared to have that job locked down and reads his keys 10x better than Maye. He's undersized, which can be a detriment at times, but his technique will save him. Shuey is another big MLB, but I doubt we see as much of him as Parker, the real wild card in the LB corps.
Parker is not going to be ready on Day 1 to play Sam, there is too much for that position to do in this scheme. I'd never pick a true freshman to start at Strongside unless we were just awful. He's tall enough, but not yet strong enough to take on Tackles and TEs every day. I think Sam is a position he will take eventually, but Steele has said he'll start at Mike. There he will learn this defensive scheme the best. If Scotty Cooper has as bad a year as last year though, or Parker excels at picking things up, Steele may cherry pick spots to get Parker some PT at Sam.
Daniel Andrews is going to be a reserve, but he did show up and play well against Kentucky.
Christian is tall enough to run with the taller TEs and has range and good speed, has a year in the scheme, and now has the muscle mass to start, though he might need just a few more pounds. On the other hand, he is still young and his on-field experience is low, so I expect to see Quan on the sideline when other teams run any kind of spread formation. Steele is going to run a lot of Nickel until he sees production at Sam. Its just a question of whether someone steps up here or in the secondary as to which personnel group you see us in the most.
Which Freshmen will play?
Vic Beasley will play. Kalon Davis almost has to play with Wilson Norris gone and with the time already in the system. Justin Parker will play. I currently expect Nuke Hopkins to play. They have stated that Martin Jenkins will play, starting out as a KR/PR.
I think either Garry Peters or Darius Robinson will redshirt, maybe both. Cornerback is a place where a young guy can play and execute early. It is one of the few positions where you can be thrown right into the fire and succeed.
David Beasley is one I would rather RS but he may avoid RS if something bad happens up front. The rest of them should definitely redshirt.
What are your biggest questions and concerns going in?