Here we are, less than a week into fall camp and we're seeing some interesting items from Tigertown. The first and most encouraging are the praises for freshman Sammy Watkins. Watkins is already taking reps with the first team and will be returning kicks when the season opens in a few weeks. For a true freshman to occupy first team roles by first contact indicates that he's the real deal and the incumbents, as we've said, don't do the things necessary to maintain their roles even through a week of practice. The sooner we get these FR wide receivers on the field the better. I will also note the accolades true freshman Mike Bellamy received from the staff. We all knew he was fast but he is apparently faster than most thought. Aside from all the coach speak to the media, independent observers were definitely wowed by this young man. He'll almost assuredly be paired with Watkins returning kicks against Troy.
Despite our complaining, Antoine McClain is getting praise from Coach Swinney. I am not sure how someone who cramps up in non-contact drills gets praised, as I consider this a sign of poor summer conditioning. Word from those we've talked with that attended is that Dabo is giving us a line. McClain says he lost 11% of his bodyfat but only 3lbs total this offseason. Until I see Mclain actually move his feet and push someone around on a consistent basis, I'll view this guy as a young man with tons of talent who is not willing to do what it takes to be really good. Maybe I'm wrong; that's just the vibe I get. At least we have heard that the rest of the OL (aside from Region, who needs to have his baby before he plays) showed up to camp in pretty good physical shape.
Bashaud Breeland has impressed most on the defense to date. We, like everyone else who discusses this team, talked highly about him this spring and in preparation for this camp because of his performance in winter drills and spring ball. Coach Cheese discussed his use of larger, more physical guys at corner and Breeland fills that billing. He flirted with the safety position last year and still may end up there before all is said and done. Coach Steele loves his speed, toughness, and his ability to play the ball stating:
"He can fly, he's very strong, he's tenacious," Steele said. "He's a good tackler. He has top-end speed with ball skills.
"Based on what we see now and in the spring, he can factor into multiple things if he keeps progressing."
Breeland will continue to push for playing time and deserves decent playing time based on his efforts in Spring and, so far, in camp. We actually pay attention when Steele praises someone, unlike Dabo.
The coaches have been talking very positively about Malliciah Goodman. While I won't make a comparison to Da'Quan Bowers (like everyone else wants to do), I will say that this young man has tons of talent and Clemson ends do have a history of taking 2-3 seasons to develop. It would really aid this defense, defensive line, and Coach Steele if we could get more pressure than expected out of Goodman. This pressure would allow less blitzing and more support for a fairly inexperienced defensive secondary.
"He has probably jumped off the film as much as anybody," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "He is just dominating his opponent."
We still don't know much about the place kicking and have to suspect that Catman still leads the competition at this spot after a couple consistent practices early on. Lakip is generally credited with the stronger leg but saw some spotty criticism about kick trajectory. I've heard it's an issue and I've heard it's really not an issue. I am sure we'll get more film and information from practice to judge for myself. I would be fearful of making adjustments in kicking mechanics. The last thing you want to do is start messing with a kicker's head and mechanics during the season. This is like trying to change your golf swing in the middle of the round and over thinking your swing--not good.
We've discussed even and odd-man fronts here and this discussion has been brought to light because Coach Steele may experiment more this season. The fact is that Clemson effectively played an odd-man front last season even though they were technically in a 4-3. Clemson showed a lot of Under looks, providing what is, for all practical purposes, a five (odd) man front. As we've discussed and danced around before, most all of the formations we show that have a DT head up or shading the center (0 or 1 tech) will pretty much set up for an odd-man front due to backer positioning based on this front. "Odd" simply means that the Center has someone over him, it does not mean a 3 or 5 man line. "Even" means the Center is totally uncovered. This is what Dabo is talking about, but our reporters don't quite understand that. Further, the real difference in the Bandit and Jack linebacker position in most aspects of this scheme will be whether or not the player is in a two or three point stance. We showed all of these looks last season so they aren't new to this team or this staff. We'll see more creativity trying to get to the QB, I'll admit that. I guess the point of this paragraph is to explain that we'll see some wrinkles from Steele but don't expect wholesale strategy changes from a year ago...at least not early on. We'll have a post on the 3-4 and these things over the weekend.
I've seen more gawking over B.J. Goodson's initial size. He's almost the "forgotten guy" of the 2011 linebacker class. Apparently he's the biggest of the group and is very noticeable out there. I still don't have anything conclusive on Tony Steward this season. People also drool over Steward and it's no surprise that a less than 100% knee will be the only thing that keeps him off the field this year. I suspect we'll have a much better idea how the staff is leaning in a week or so. You just do not want to waste a year of eligibility (and a year of this young man's football life) if the result is what we saw out of Justin Parker last season. I'd err on the side of caution until I was absolutely sure Steward will see extended PT this season before giving up the possibility of a redshirt. Again, I may be way too concerned here and Steward's knee (with brace) may be much better than it was before the injury. The feeling we've gotten from those who attend practice is that he's probably better off with the RS.
Coach Swinney seems to have tempered his media discussions this season, which I would assume is part of his new media plan that also limits media contact with players and staff members. Most of what we're getting from the press is a few words with him and a couple coaches after practice, since they aren't allowed to watch as much anymore. While it is less entertaining for most, it should temper fan emotional volatility, as Dabo can get people fired up one way or another. I will admit I wish Coach Caldwell had his own TV/radio show...that guy is entertaining and fun to listen to.
So far I've been impressed with what appears to be Dabo's more hands off approach that lets a staff of very good coaches do their jobs. We like the concept of Dabo "awe shucks'ing" with the media while playing an integral part in team recruiting. These are his strengths and he is very good at both of these things because he does a great job relating to people. I don't think he is as strong devising and implementing strategy and have more confidence in the coordinators in this area. He did a great job assembling his staff, and credit is definitely given where it's deserved.
We're hearing great things about The Chad's ability to install his offense and continually teach the offensive players. He is determined to mold Tajh Boyd into a technically perfect throwing motion and, from what I've seen and heard, he's done a fine job. While Boyd's motion isn't completely "fixed," he looks much, much, much better than he did back in the December bowl game. The more and more I hear Morris, the more I like and respect his style. We'll see how well this scheme is implemented because, as you know, we're a results driven site who will "believe it when we see it."