The last couple weeks have been interesting as we move closer to the football season and a lot different than in years past. Coach Swinney has limited media access, tempered his enthusiasm, and become more realistic. The latter we and most of the fanbase appreciate, the former makes us more anxious about everything we hear because of this lack of openness. The Chad has been straightforward in his interviews as has Steele so hopefully fan expectations will be realistic when they tee it up in a couple weeks.
Morris' early candidness does provide some optimism for this offense. He has said on a couple occasions that the offense is "ahead of schedule." We told you this offense is relatively simple and are encouraged by these comments. The proof is in the pudding, so we have a couple weeks yet to muddle over offensive advancement. I will not get too excited because, you know, "we're sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game last it's my last but we're talking about practice man." (thanks AI).
Allegedly, this team is getting tougher. We have been hearing a lot about toughness and how important it is to build this in practice, particularly from Morris. I joked about it earlier, but practice is where games are won and lost. We've complained about it here over and over and know that other former prominent head football coaches have questioned previous practice philosophies in the past. I sincerely hope that the infusion of new assistant coaches can lift the offense's intensity and toughness and that this isn't just another line of crap. Hearing The Chad over the past six months or so, I am more inclined to believe this than I would have been back in December.
Speaking of The Chad calling people out, veteran receivers have been in his crosshairs for quite some time and he is serious. So serious that even Jaron Brown has started to put in consistent effort. He knows his bench to playing time ratio will skyrocket if he doesn't get his act together. We won't see the same bullshit we saw last year where more talented receivers were on the sidelines so that an upperclassman can muddle around, drop passes, miss blocks, and give poor effort. Morris has already put these people on notice...and ties go to the young bucks.
The issue I have is these guys were allowed to get these attitudes in the first place. Coaches can adjust attitudes in various fashions. None of the upperclassmen has done shit here at Clemson (include last year's seniors if you want). I could care less if a player was all region at BF High School. There is a reason our WR corps and subsequent passing game sucked and piss poor attitude along with the coaching catering to their favorites and/or upperclassmen are part of the problem.
Here is what The State says about Morris playing the younger guys; I think he has solved the problem:
Morris on freshmen skill players: "You can't keep playmakers on the sideline .... I didn't think that they would grasp this much and allow us to progress as fast as we have."
We'll see a lot of Sammy Watkins early, which is good. I was expecting Bryant to push the vets more but is having some issues picking up some items. He has the build to play now and IF he can get it all together, he'll be impressive. What we've heard early is that many, many players are getting touches and Morris will continue to spread the ball all over the field. Because of attitudes some of our veterans have shown along with their lack of in-game production to date, I am pulling for the new guys to take their snaps...the earlier the better.
Andre Ellington is back, well sort of. The guy we haven't talked too much about to date is Andre Ellington. We, like most everyone out there, have been focused on the new guys pushing the veterans and Tajh Boyd's development. Ellington, by Chad Morris' admission, is not in season form now. All reports indicate he's recovered from the 2010 injury. I think he is probably in adequate shape, just not adequate football shape. There is a big difference in running sprints/summer drills and actually getting hit in contact situations. There is also the adjustment to the faster paced Morris offense. My take is that he is recovered and will be in shape by the third game of the season, which is quite convenient. I am honestly not worried now only because Andre has a month to get into 20-25 carries per game shape.
Offensive line questions remain. The offensive line story won't change all year. If a tackle goes down, David Smith gets moved there and Mason Cloy to guard (even though the staff is trying to play it off as though we have three tackles, we really don't). If a guard goes down, it's Cloy to guard. If Dalton Freeman can't go, it's Cloy to center. Make no mistake; we are in a world of hurt if one of these guys goes down in terms of potential substitution. Mason Cloy is the only quality depth we have. Truth is, Cloy would be a starter if we had any depth at the Center spot. We are in deep shit if we lose two because OL depth is pretty much an abyss.
Go Tajh, Go Tigers! Reports indicate that Boyd is continuing his promising fall camp, which is encouraging. Like I've been saying, though, until the real bullets start flying, you really can't know what you have at QB. We mentioned Ellington earlier and having him at 100% football shape will be a great benefit for Boyd. Everyone knows an effective running game is a QB's best friend. Further, Morris tries to reiterate to the redshirt sophomore that he does not have to force things to make good things happen, particularly with some of the talent he has around him.
"Tajh is having a really, really good camp," Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. "This is his second full scrimmage to where he has yet to turn the ball over. ... He's doing a good job managing the game. He doesn't have to win games for us. Get the ball to our playmakers. That's what's so versatile about this offense is we have so many different ways to get the ball to our playmakers."
Sammy Watkins changes his number from "seven" to "two." Why is this of importance? Tony Steward is currently number 7 for the Tigers. This leads one to believe that the coaches foresee realistic scenarios (special teams) where both will be on the field which means, of course, Steward would avoid a redshirt. I've heard reports that say Steward is ready to go now and others who said they'd sit him this season. It's probably not settled completely so don't take this as an absolute, just another hurdle cleared if the coaches want to play him.
We're thin on OL depth and equally thin at DT. The offense had a big scrimmage the other day with the absence of Rennie Moore and Brandon Thompson. Coaches commented that there was little support from the reserves, making us even more anxious about the interior defensive line going into the season. We've got to get quality snaps out of non-starters and, at this point, I see a big drop off when the first team leaves the field which is really, really not good.
There is still a lot of competition in the secondary. We've heard a lot of names getting a lot of looks at this junction in the preseason. We'll need to see more players get reps at Safety as we approach the season. Coach Cheese has been working a large portion of his DB's at corner, even the bigger framed guys. I would guess this is to develop core coverage skills before rotating some guys deeper into the secondary. Like we've been saying all along, Harbison will play a lot of guys early and settle in on a core group after the Wofford game.
Props to Coach Swinney on willingness to change. He had no choice, but still...He's done a lot of things since the Tire Bowl that have been approved here. I think the coaching staff has been significantly upgraded over last season. Dabo retired (at least for the preseason) his pompoms and has been real with the media. We don't sugarcoat stuff here at STS and like coaches who do the same. We've also heard that Dabo is running less interference for his coaches, which is fantastic. I'd bet Woody McCorvey has a lot to do with this attitude adjustment.
We'll be watching substitution patterns and on-field antics this season to determine how much Dabo really has matured as a coach. We saw him preference his favorites (his bad receivers, his personal recruits, etc...) instead of playing better players. I am not sure his current stable of assistants will let that happen as much as in years past.
As you know, Swinney has never been a coordinator. He could argue inexperience last season with Napier but cannot make this argument with Morris. If he starts meddling with The Chad, there will probably be a huge clash and Morris won't be cordial if Dabo puts his hands in the offense.
Will Dabo's on-field antics change? We all know about the profanity laden tirade he was involved in with Coach Napier last season and have heard rumors of constant in-game bickering over the headsets. Such activities create chaos and confusion for the players and coaches. We definitely noticed the premature celebration last season against Auburn. The game is 60 minutes long.
ABOVE ALL, winning seems to cure everything so, I guess (and this is probably a stretch), we wouldn't care if our coach acted like Les Miles week in week out if we got the same results...although watching LSU play is equally puzzling, amusing, and stressful for some reason.