Our Tigers are starting off camp this week and after a 6-7 season our coaches have had to create some momentum in the program themselves, instead of relying on a bowl win or ACC Atlantic crown to do it for them. Dabo, who can apparently sell cock rings to a convent, talked enough 5-stars to sign with us that it has done a lot of that momentum-building for him. Evidently the fans forgot that his and Napier’s offense couldn’t figure out how to use a screwdriver last season. That BOT meeting in December unleashed the plans that have been sitting on a desk for years for $50 mil in facilities improvements, and hiring a new offensive coordinator with a good scheme that excites the fans has done the rest.
A lot of people are excited about the program even after such a crappy season. I’m not one of them, not really. I see Swinney doing almost everything I asked for, but until I see wins, I ain’t gonna get too excited. Sure, I’m pumped up about football season finally returning so I can spend countless hours watching, but I let myself get a little more excited last year and look how that turned out. There is no excuse for losing 5 games with Spiller and none for losing 7 with Bowers either. I could predict how this season is going to go, game-by-game, but I’m not doing that this year….we’re Clemson; we always blow a couple we should win. We will know how the season is going to go after the first 5. If we start out 4-1, this could be a stellar year. If we start out 2-3, then I think we’re looking at 6 losses. You can’t outrecruit bad coaching and I won’t get overly excited about the program until I see good coaching getting results from those recruits.
So what has to happen for this season to be a success?
1) Receivers must step up. We’ve got players who could catch in HS and can’t catch here. WTF happened in between? These things have to be fixed, NOW.
Jaron Brown has shown flashes of his moves, but there is no production to speak of. I just think he doesn’t know how to get himself open. He’s going to start as one of the outside WRs, but for how long I have no idea. Put up or shut up time.
Marquan Jones is the most invisible man on the field and now as a senior, I have given up on him. I really thought he’d step up last year. If he starts in the Auburn game, I’m going to be shocked. He should be passed by one of the slot receiver freshmen, namely Watkins or Craig, hopefully both.
Nuke Hopkins has little to worry about and I see no way he loses considerable PT to a freshman. He’s a football player, not just an athlete who happens to play football. I think he should be All-ACC this year with even decent QB play.
If the offense works, we’ll have 80 or so plays per game, and you have to envision starters getting about 50 of that. The new guys are going to play no matter what, and the old guys you don’t think should start are going to play too. It’ll be trial by fire for everyone. Peake and Bryant are outside WRs and will spell Hopkins and Brown initially. I would put my bet on Bryant taking Brown’s spot first. Watkins and Craig are slots and both have the outright speed we lacked last year to take the top off the coverage. Watkins is my bet for the 5-man position in the offense by midseason, which is reserved for a player who can get the deep ball and is set up by scheme to catch a lot of passes. At times it can also be the TE at the 5, so it’ll really depend on the call.
Still, the corps is inexperienced and I don’t see a 1000 yard season from any in the group. I think about the best realistic production we can hope for is a 50 catch, 500-600 yard season from Watkins, a couple hundred more than that from Hopkins, and 300-500 from Brown. That would top last year’s production and combined with Ellington and Bellamy with Howard spelling, should get us back up to the Top 40 in offense. If we finished in the Top 20 in total offense I would be ecstatic, but Tajh would have to be stellar in his first year without teething issues, which I just don’t think is realistic in year 1 of a scheme against this schedule.
Don’t even quote me figures for Morris at Tulsa with their schedule and a team that ran a similar scheme with Herb Hand and Gus Malzahn before that. None of that matters here.
At TE, which will play the 4 and 5 position in the offense, Dwayne Allen needs to produce. He needs to give 100% effort, which he has not in the past, not by far. In the 2nd half of last season Allen dropped off the map, and the inclination is to blame defenses for scheming him out or Parker’s general suckage. The truth is that most defenses didn’t scheme him out after MIA/UNC, Parker didn’t play well, and Dwayne didn’t give effort on the field. Brandon Ford needs to spell him so he doesn’t have to play every snap on offense and special teams again.
2) Offensive line needs to step up and become what it was in the 1990s at least, but preferably the ‘80s.
Brad is gone, thank the lord. Caldwell is in, thank the lord. Time to fix it. I’m actually optimistic about the line’s development again, and I think the OL has been the biggest hurdle for us for the last decade. We still don’t have depth, but at least we got a good coach. If he cannot fix it, the finger points squarely at Joey Batson. Batson supporters don’t have many excuses left.
I’m happy enough with the returning starters. The emphasis in this scheme is interior running, so the focus goes on Smith/Cloy/Freeman/McClain now. If they don’t move people we don’t win games, period.Left tackle is the question mark, and Philip Price is not a long-term answer. Caldwell has said that Thomas was tentative about his knee this spring, and that has improved since, so we’ll see.
3) Defensive losses must be replaced, especially on the line.
4) One of the freshman linebackers must produce.
We lost 2 starters up front from a great DL, that’s not easy to replace. We lost a former All-American safety and a couple of solid, but unflashy, corners. I don’t think we’ll miss Brandon Maye too much though. We’ll be taking a hit from the Top 10-20 defenses we’ve had the last two years. You just have to accept it.
Additionally, until the offense figures things out, these guys are going to be out there a lot….sometimes without seeing 30 seconds come off the game clock. I see the defense getting beat up some out of the gate but improving steadily in 2011. Steele didn’t have to blitz last year either, but you’ve heard about us putting in some 3-4 sets, and we did predict that you’d see him get more inventive to create pass rush, so you’ll see plenty of blitzing this year.
Thompson and Branch are very good players but now the ball is just going to go away from them until Rennie Moore and Malliciah Goodman put it together. Corey Crawford is special. Kourtnei Brown just doesn’t make plays. Having Hobby around will help Brown immensely I believe, because Marion is a better coach of technique. The 3-technique is what worries me most. Jarvis Jenkins wasn’t a great pass rusher, but he did eat up blockers and was stout against the run. Rennie is more of a pass rusher than run-stopper, and all the DT backups are completely untested. People are going to pound us up the A/B-gap weakside all day until this is proved to be fixed.
I’m not so worried about the secondary. I think Harbison can coach his guys up well enough to be solid at the back end, but we won’t be at the top in pass defense this y ear. I think Top 25 in pass efficiency might be possible considering that we aren’t in a passing conference, and if the front holds steady we’d again be a Top 25 defense. Brewer got a bad rap because of some gaffes, but when you play M2M you have to accept those. He did improve as the year went on. He will have challengers for his spot this time around in Breeland and Robinson. Depth behind Meeks is a major question I have however.
Clemson hasn’t had a really good linebacker since Anthony Waters left. I think we’ve got one now in Quandon Christian. He was ready to go in the Spring game and he’s not losing his job this year unless he gets hurt. Justin Parker’s light came on, and he’ll hopefully get 20 plays per game to spell Quan, if we play pro-style offenses. Against spread sets the SAM will probably still come off for a Nickel. I suspect Justin may get time at MIKE in some situations as well.
The other two LB spots are not that solid. I like Corico Hawkins, because he knows how to check the front and he’s where he is supposed to be, but he doesn’t make big plays. I think the former is more important at MIKE, but if a freshman picks up the defense, Rico won’t hold the spot past midseason. I look for him to start at least through Aub/FSU/VT, but I won’t project further. Steward is slotted at MIKE initially, but I want to hear how the knee is before I say he takes this job. Considering Clemson’s record with joint injuries (Korn’s shoulder, Cullen’s shoulder, JD’s shoulder, Sapp’s knee, Spiller’s toe, etc.), I’d be apt to redshirt if there is any doubt whatsoever.
Willard and Vic Beasley are going to fight hard at WILL, for the #2 spot. Willard hasn’t been healthy for a couple of years and played with one arm last season or he’d have taken Maye’s spot. I’m not ready to write him off, but he has to produce from Day 1. Vic Beasley’s light better come on quick, because Anthony can play now. I think Anthony’s initial spot is WLB or MLB (depending on Steward’s knee) because of his ability in coverage and instincts, so these guys will have a hard time fighting him off. He should start by the end of the year.
I think though, given the hits we take and the inexperience, that a Top 20 total defense is unrealistic. I project somewhere in the 25-40 range overall, improving as the season goes.
5) And most importantly, Tajh Boyd better be ready to ball.
Bottom line, my expectation is 10 wins a year by any head coach’s 4th season, and this is his 4th season in my book, and I don’t see it happening. The talent is here, but none is experienced. I think the most realistic expectation is 7 or 8. I’ve said I’d have my mind made up on Swinney at the end of this season, but I won’t put a win figure on that. Unless he has a losing season, he is going nowhere anyway.