This season was extremely unique for Billy Napier. With the promotion of Dabo Swinney from receivers coach to head coach, Billy Napier was also moved around a good bit. After a playing career at Furman, Napier got his start in coaching as a quarterback coach at SC State in 2005. Napier then came to Clemson as the tight ends coach then was given the additional responsibility of recruiting coordinator. Following T. Bowden's departure in '08, Coach Swinney elevated Napier to Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
The season was also unique for the quarterback position at CU. With the departure of Cullen Harper, the Tigers went into Spring practice with no clear cut starter under center. In the end, freshman Kyle Parker was able to beat out local fan favorite and highly tauted Willy Korn for the position and held onto this role for the entire season. This season was about what we all expected (a small roller coaster with growing pains) given the experience level at the quarterback position, and we have been fairly understanding of this issue all year.
How we will grade the Quarterbacks Coach/Offensive Coordinator:
- Decision Making/Understanding of the Game--both by Player and Coach
- Throwing Ability (Accuracy, Velocity, Overall Mechanics)
- Leadership Qualities from the QB
- Game Planning/In-Game Adjustments
The quarterback position is arguably the most important position on a football team and often requires a skill set unlike any other position in sports. Your quarterback has to be a field general who can perform under pressure yet athletic enough to make big play on his own if needed. The QB must be a great decision maker who often relies on instinct and information gained from extensive study of the game, his own team, and his opponent. The quarterback must know what everyone on the offense is supposed to do at any given time. Long and short, this is a tough spot with the player getting all the credit in a win and blame in a loss.
Coach Napier is no stranger to the quarterback position, lettering four years during a very successful career at Furman. Napier followed his playing career as a graduate assistant at Clemson University in '03 and '04, QB coach at State in '05, and has been at CU as a TE/QB coach (along with recruiting and offensive coordinator roles) since. The '09 season was Napier's first full season as Clemson's offensive coordinator.
Through Napier's time at Clemson, he has been viewed as a very popular coach with both the players and prospective recruits. Napier has been labeled a top 25 recruiter and has nailed a lot of good ones for us. As a coordinator, it becomes more difficult to recruit because the coach is having to devote more time to film study, strategy, and anticipation of opposition tendencies/how to take advantage of such items. This season he lands Vic Beasley and Reid Webster, despite not being on the road nearly as much as before, nor spending as much time in-season on recruiting. At one point in late summer/early fall, Beasley even commented that he had not heard from our staff for many weeks. We are not sure whether Clemson would've landed Beasley if Napier's father had not been his HS offensive coach. Napier was the first recruiter of record for Keenan Allen before being reassigned out of N.C. by Swinney and Jeff Scott, and at that time Clemson was firmly in the picture with Allen. Last season he pulled off a major coup and was able to bring in superstar QB Tajh Boyd (along with Danny Pearman). There is no doubt that Napier can recruit and has clearly pulled his weight over the past few years in official commitments, as shown below, but we would like to see a good recruiter like Napier mentioned more often in recruiting news for the 2011 cycle. We do know that he will see our QB offers personally, usually with Pearman as they are primarily in Pearman's region for next year.
Napier inheirited a young, inexperienced group of quarterbacks this season consisting of RS Fr Kyle Parker, RS So Willy Korn, and RS Jr Michael Wade. Heading into spring practice we all knew that this battle would be between Korn and Parker. The battle continued into August when the coaching staff announced that Parker would be Clemson's starting quarterback in the season opener. These were the only two quarterbacks to see significant action all season (I believe Wade may have been under center for a victory snap at some point), and their stats are shown below, with the passing numbers first followed by the rushing stats. (statistics courtesy of www.clemsontigers.com)
Overview of Napier as a QB Coach and the Quarterbacks
Passing ability for the Tigers was a work in progress all season long. Since Parker was the starter and took most of the snaps on the season, we will mainly key him in this analysis with Korn's performance as a secondary assessment.
Parker had decent mechanics on the season. Parker has a strong arm and can really riffle the ball when he wants. Thus, arm strength and quickness of release are not problems here. The problems that you will see out of Parker occurs with his accuracy and his inability to step into every throw he makes. Parker was often off target all season long. Many times, the cause of these throws appeared to be uncomfortableness during the play. Often, Parker would be guilty of throwing flat footed or off of his back foot, causing inaccuracy and overall poor attempts. Parker needs to work on his footwork and pocket presence.
The other mechanical issue that Parker had was telegraphing his passes (especially early inthe year). Parker tended to stare down the intended target, but also a slight mechanical flaw exists in how he opens his front shoulder before release. This resulted in defenders getting better breaks on the football as anyone looking into the backfield knew where the ball was going (defenders key a QB's shoulders, not so much his eyes). KP improved on this down the stretch. You have to think that by next season Kyle will be comfortable enough with the offense and his receivers that he will be able to more effectively move defenders around by looking off the safety more and then having the confidence, knowledge, and faith to know where everyone will be on any given play.
We don't have too much to benchmark Parker against because he just completed his freshman season. I had no other problems with the throwing motion, delivery, zip, etc... but do expect to see better footwork, eye control, and more accurate passing in 2010.
Willy Korn appeared to press when he was awarded playing time, and thus was inacurate at times. Korn worked with his father and famous QB's coach Jerry Rhome to shorten his release and regain lost velocity. It was obvious that Korn had been working on his throwing motion from simple observations from '08 to spring/season '09. Early in Korn's Clemson career he suffered several injuries that appeared to mess with his throwing motion (for the worse) and was detrimental to him getting the ball unloaded and to the intended target. Korn's mechanics were vastly improved over the previous season and spring in the passing department, but still, the lack of zip on passes solidified Parker as the starter.
Decision making at the quarterback position was relatively unreliable all season. We believe that these inconsistencies and mistakes can be linked to the inexperience at the quarterback position. Kyle Parker started out the season making good decisions in the season opener and really impressing us. Parker moved along and almost seemed scared to tuck the ball and run. Against Wake, KP's decision making improved as the RS Fr showed he was able to run and throw when necessary. However, Parker returned to being a freshman QB against Miami, erroneously fumbling when he should have taken a sack and throwing an interception in the Miami end zone. Fortunately KP was able to stay upbeat and eventually delivered a strike to Jacoby Ford for the game's winning score. The rest of the season was up and down with some obvious breaks (dropped INT that could have been six for the 'Noles coupled with some nice tosses in this one also). The fact of the matter here is that lack of experience definitely affected Clemson at the signal caller position. Willy Korn, as mentioned before, appeared hell bent on making plays when he got into games, and at times it showed. However, I don't think that you can really blame him for trying to make the most of his time in a limited role.
The facts is that this group is really young and did not have much experience from which to pull. Overall, the decision making from a FRESHMAN QB was as good as we could expect and Parker's inexperience ultimately did not lose the Tigers any games. This is acceptable, though we really expect to see a wiser quarterback who makes fewer mistakes as a Sophmore next year. The exit of Will Korn leaves RS Fr Tajh Boyd as the Tigers' backup. From everything I have heard, he makes up for lack of experience with pure talent, and has been a terror on the scout team. The staff is really high on Boyd, and we would not be surprised to see him play early to gain experience and possibly showcase his abilities with a "Boyd Package".
KP took the reigns of this team in August and really did not look like the true leader early on. Again, this is probably a function of his inexperience and adjustments he had to make becoming the Tiger's starting QB. Poor playcalling early may also have contributed to him being a little tentative in this department. After the Maryland loss, however, I thought that KP stepped up more and more each week. I think that he has the respect by the offense and has grown over the course of the year. As is the recurring theme, we will have to wait to see how he progresses as "The Man" over the offseason, especially with stars Jacoby Ford and C. J. Spiller gone. Leadership is one area that is tough to coach, as most people are either leaders or followers by nature. KP has put in the effort, taken his licks, became respected by his teamates, and is in prime position to lead this group next year.
I think that we can say that, for their experience level, the quarterbacks had a decent year in '09. Below is a recap of our quarterback talent.
Kyle Parker: Kyle is an excellent athlete who has come in and played pretty well as a freshman. He has excellent arm strength and can move well. Kyle was up and down on his decision making skills and needs to better understand situational football (i.e., red zone interceptions against both FSU and Miami as well as the fumble returned for a TD against Miami). Kyle has some mechanical issues with his footwork and throwing position--throwing off the back foot/shoulder opening--that needs improvement. Kyle also had accuracy issues throughout the season that need to be addressed moving forward. We saw KP develop as a runner over the course of the year and consequently we are extremely comfortable with Parker getting outside and gaining ground with his legs (we started encouraging this early in the season). Parker became more comfortable as the season progressed, learning to look off defenders and progressing as a team leader.
We feel as though a lot of the issues Kyle had were a function of his inexperience and that footwork and accuracy issues can be addressed. The real uncertainty here is whether KP will be able to put the Tigers on his shoulders and laed this team utilizing his arm. Parker was asked to throw the ball more than 30 time in a football game 5 times last season, with Clemson losing 4 of those contests (losses to TCU, GT, Maryland, and SC and a win in overtime against Miami). Kyle will need to improve in the aforemetioned areas to string together completions, sustain drives, and move the football methodically without the benifit of C. J. Spiller to rescue this offense.
We feel as though we are in good shape at the QB position should Kyle return to school next season. While KP has quite a few things he will need to improve upon, we feel as though he has the tools to be a good one and that the experience he gained last season coupled with another spring and fall camp period puts him in good position to have a nice year in '10. See KP's game by game stats below, courtesy of statsheet.com at http://statsheet.com/cfb/players/player/clemson/kyle-parker
|Sat, Sep 05||
||vs||14||Middle Tennessee State||20||9||0.45||0||159||2||7||25||3.6||18||0|
|Thu, Sep 10||
|Sat, Sep 19||
|Sat, Sep 26||
|Sat, Oct 03||
|Sat, Oct 17||
|Sat, Oct 24||
|Sat, Oct 31||
|Sat, Nov 07||
|Sat, Nov 14||
|Sat, Nov 21||
|Sat, Nov 28||
|Sat, Dec 05||
|Sun, Dec 27||
Willy Korn: Korn was utilized mostly in mop up duty. Korn has worked extensively on his mechanics and is a good athlete. He doesn't have the zip that Parker has, but is more mobile than KP. Korn often pressed when placed in football games--I would suppose he was trying too hard to prove himself--so it is difficult to assess his decition making abilities and other intangibles. Korn wll transfer after graduation in May and someone will get a quarterback with a ton of potential and a guy who is well respected within the Clemson community. We wish him all the best and want to say thanks for his commitment to the Tigers.
Michael Wade: Wade is Clemson's all-around contributor. Wade is the holder and contributes heavily on special teams. We expect MW to seek another postition in '10 to try to gain more playing time but still could be used as an emergency QB. Wade is an excellent athlete who lettered his fresman year as a defensive back.
Tajih Boyd: Boyd is a nice athlete who has wowed spectators and coaches while on scout team. From all accounts, Boyd has a cannon for an arm and is extremely fleet-footed, though he is regarded as a true dropback passer. We are excited about the potential Boyd has and hope that he has recovered from his ACL injury from over a year ago. We would not be surprised at all to see this staff explore a package designed for Boyd moving forward.
Overview of Napier as Offensive Coordinator
I will go ahead and give a disclaimer: I apologize for recapping the season below, but do it only to indicate the roller coaster ride that this team and this staff endured offensively over the course of the season. This inconsistency is important in analyzing a coordinator and does serve a point.
Clemson's game planning and strategy was inconsistent also. Early in the year, the play calling was extremely choppy and did not make much sense--with the lone exception being the opening (scripted) drive against TCU. Clemson's redzone offense was pitiful, passing game execution poor, and overall playcalling was questionable. Clemson really looked like amateurs offensively, and the scoring output reflected such.
When watching these football games it appeared as though the staff had about 3 dozen plays out of 14 different formations that they were hell-bent on running no matter the situation. The progression was anything but smooth. We can argue who is to blame here or what caused these issues. Was this Napier getting too cute or a conflict between Swinney/Napier and the result of in-game playcalling vetoes? Whatever the case, it befuddled and frustrated both of us.
The Maryland game was obviously the turning point for this team and this coaching staff. This embarrasment was the shock to the system that Swinney/Napier needed to realize that things needed to change NOW. The offensive staff used the off week to re-evalute their philosophy and personnel groupings moving forward. We called for the changes that occured (please refer to the Archives and most posts from September 2009) early on and were pleased to see some "common sense" and basic football installed into this team. Clemson decided to do a couple of things at this point. First, the offensive staff simplified things. Next, we played only the players who legitimately contributed. This meant benching the majority of the receiving corps for three dependable players (Ford, Ashe, Dye). The final element was getting the ball to Clemson's best and most dependable players. You saw Spiller and Ford being featured more, tight ends being flexed and thrown to by design. This was a big key, as we screamed that Clemson needed to feed Michael Palmer (and to some extent Allen too) the ball over the inexperienced and drop-happy group of receivers being shuttled in and out of games. The final bit was a commitment to running the football, which we think the Tigers improved upon over the course of the year.
The Wake game saw the Tigers first successful offensive output of the season. Clemson commtted to running the ball then utilized playaction off of the run-look to move the ball up and down the field. Clemson utilized this approach for most of the rest of the season and enjoyed more success. This simplistic approach (i.e., get players on the field who can perform and get them the ball in the least complicated manner possible) served Clemson well. You have to give the offensive staff and Napier credit for this midseason adjustment that probably saved CU's season, and is definitely noted. This is definitely a sign of maturation of this young coordinator, as documented pretty well by The State.
The game down the stretch that really worries us about this staff is the South Carolina game. We have all known for years how to beat USC and have openly discussed what to do on this site...RUN THE BALL BETWEEN THE TACKLES. South Carolina's defense seems to be the same story every year. This is a good squad that is fast on the perimeter and has a good secondary. They are, however, weak in the middle, and can be run upon by any team that is willing to even try to pound the ball inside. The fact that Clemson had every chance in the world to try to establish the run and didn't do it is ridiculous in itself (19 carries for 48 yards). This strategy (not execution or inability to produce) really irked us and put some questions into our heads about Napier's coordinator skills.
The final concern is the way that we score. Spiller's keen abilities often turn football games into track meets because of his ability turn a small opening into a touchdown no matter the down, distance, or position on the field (see ACCCG). While I definitely think that Ellingon will be a star, Clemson will have to replace one of the university's greatest athletes. Clemson's offensive line has been unacceptable run blocking. Our zone techniques have not proven able to sustain drives, and we would like to see more two back sets and basic rushing plays and are curious if Napier will explore more of these concepts in light of our deficiencies up front.
What we think about Billy Napier:
Coach Napier has proven to be an excellent recruiter and adequate QB coach. Thus, we really like having him on staff in each of these capacities, especially on the recruiting trail. His performance as an offensive coordinator is not as cut and dry. Clemson was inconsistent offensively, but we thought we had it together after wrapping up the ACC Atlantic crown. The SC game combined with earlier shortcomings really makes you take a step back and think. Say what you want about the team's mentality for the SC game, but the playcalls themselves were poor.
All in all, this season went about how we thought it would. Both the offensive coordinator and offensive minded head coach were each in their first full season in his current role. Thus, we expected some growing pains and have been committed to giving this young staff a fair shake and their due dilligence. Because of the latter, we are willing to give Napier a mulligan for the aforementioned poor performances and observe for another season. However, as we have said since TCU, the honeymoon is over. We expect that this staff and each of its subcomponents (particularly a coordinator) will have learned from a year in its current role and will be much improved and will cut down on strategical errors and in-game decisions that can be easily corrected.
Further, we know that Napier's job will be more difficult next year with the loss of CU's three (3) best skill weapons--Ford, Spiller, and Palmer--and an annually ill-prepared offensive line. The elimination of homerun hitter and one-man game changer C. J. Spiller will force Napier to string together more 10-15 play drives if we are to score, as well as losing some field position due to opponents not being as wary of our returners. Long and short, we will have an excellent idea about whether Napier is ready for a coordinator position or ascended too quickly early in the 2010 season and will have a definite opinion about his role at Clemson in the future.