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2011 Clemson Pre-Camp Team Analysis

Clemson enters Dabo Swinney's third fall camp as Clemson head man.  We've examined individual positions heading into camp and have linked them below and today will try to make sense of the whole and present a pre-camp team overview.

Pre-Camp Analysis

Offensive Line


Wide Receiver

Running Back

Defensive Line


Defensive Back


We've detailed Clemson's offensive philosophical shift under Chad Morris here at STS and I will not rehash the fine details here.  There are some particulars this philosophy will drive, and we'll discuss them here along with other major items.

Simplicity:  The Morris offense looks complex on film due to its direct snaps, constant motion, quarterback reads, and frequent misdirection.   In fact, the offense is the furthest thing from complex.  We've detailed the zone reads, zone rushes, wing-t roots, power plays, as well as quick and normal passing concepts here over a relatively painless and short period of time. The beauty is, this is the vast majority of what we'll see this fall.  It is simple and incorporates ideas most players see in high school.  Further, Morris will use motion and formation adjustments strategically unlike the read and react items Clemson has used in the past.  This reduces in-game player adjustments, allowing the players to play and the coaches to do the in-game thinking.  This bodes well for a quick installation AND allows the players to think less and play more instinctively/with more confidence.

Tempo:  As we've reiterated here, The Chad wants to run 80-85 plays per game.  This means our players need to be in much better shape overall and understand the offense completely to maintain this pace.  Fortunately, the offense's simplicity should take care of the latter.  The former should have been addressed with conditioning drills (from weight lifting/mat drills all the way through summer running) already and will be maintained through fall drills and pre/in-season conditioning exercises.  The increased tempo will also stress roster depth.  A lot of players will be forced to play because of the sheer number of plays which means capable backups are necessary at nearly all positions. 

It is also worth noting that the coaches will need to adjust to this offense and will be calling and signalling in plays at a blistering pace this season.  This makes instant decision making on their part a critical item for this offense.  It will not allow lengthy discussions once the series begins.

Fundamentals:  Everything we've seen from Morris points to a guy focused on details.  Deficiencies in technical soundness have been documented at nearly every position here.  We think Morris will better instruct the quarterbacks and will demand that Jeff Scott address the perimeter blocking & effort issues we've become accustomed to seeing.  Caldwell is an excellent coach, so we have few concerns with the coaching here.

Depth:  We touched on depth earlier when discussing tempo and we'll reiterate the issue here.  We'll need depth to hedge against injury and to allow for substitution.  We do not have quality, proven depth at any offensive position.  At QB, Tajh Boyd will get his first career start against Troy in the opener.  His backup was in high school last season.  At RB, Ellington is the only back with reasonable experience.  We have WR's people have played but no one is pleased with the quality/dependability outside of Nuke.  Up front, we have the starters and (if he's not a starter in a month) Mason Cloy who we're comfortable playing.  No one else is proven.

There are quality depth building issues that we'd like to see improved this fall.  It will be tough to give Cole Stoudt extra practice reps during the season due to Boyd's relative inexperience, so camp reps here will be important.  Hopefully we'll build some big leads early in the season to get Cole some game experience.  ALL wide receivers will get an opportunity early and we will probably see some young bucks move up in the pecking order quickly.  Most importantly, we have to get backup linemen ready to play.  As it stands now, one injury could send this unit into a tailspin.

Overall:  While Clemson is installing a new offense, many aspects are much simpler than the Spence/Napier/Swinney combination.  It will be a learning experience, but Clemson should be able transition into this offense quicker than more complicated schemes.  We expect more discipline due to staff changes.  These will be emphasized throughout camp and into the season.  We also expect an infusion of young talent at the skills position.  We expect a true freshman to penetrate the two deep at QB, RB, and at least one receiver position. 

Coach Swinney obviously preferred a spread type offense and Morris' philosophy should reduce differences between the head coach and offensive coordinator.  Further, his pace of play will eliminate most of the meddling we saw last season.  Additional repetitions due to pace of play should assure that the players are more comfortable/better oriented with the core plays.

We'll need everyone to move on an accelerated learning curve.  Obviously there are lots of young bucks at WR / RB / QB who we are going to rely upon early and often.  Additionally we'll need the experienced offensive linemen to begin dominating the LOS and get early reps for the backups here.  If you're a glass half full person, you'll look at the 2011 offense and say "No matter what, it cannot be any worse than last season."


New Starters:  Clemson has two core defensive groups who should see a drop off and one group that will be improved.  The two groups (defensive line and defensive backs) lost some tremendous players including DeAndre McDaniel, Da'Quan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins, Byron Maxwell, and Marcus Gilchrist.  How guys like Jonathan Meeks, Rennie Moore, Malliciah Goodman, and others adjust to extra snaps and more responsibility will dictate how big of a step back this defense takes in 2011.  The down linemen are the biggest concern and have the most questions.  Replacing standout McDaniel and two very serviceable/reliable DBs is no small task either, particularly when you consider how versatile Gilchrist was for this defense one year ago.

True Freshmen:  These are the guys Clemson fans are most excited about.  Clemson's bumper class of linebackers was the cream of the country in February.  The big question moving forward is "How quickly can these guys make an impact?"  We expect Anthony to play early and eventually take over a starting role by season's end.  Steward's knee will dictate his participation.  I expect the others to redshirt.  There is no question that both Steward and Anthony will increase the talent level on the field.  The big concern (besides Steward's health) is getting these guys practice reps and accustomed to the Steele system.  The quicker they adapt, the bigger impact these guys will have this fall. 

Formation Adjustments:  As we've discussed here time and time again, Clemson is a base 4-3 defense.  With the personnel we had last season, the Tigers were able to get adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks with a four man rush and some base blitz packages.  Occasionally we saw Clemson flirt with a 3-4 look (Georgia Tech immediately comes to mind) but we stayed within our 4-3 under against pro sets and a four man front with a nickel behind when opponents gave spread looks. 

We still expect this to be CU's primary method of attach but also look to Steele for adjustments and wrinkles to this scheme that compensate for the lost pressure applied by Bowers in particular.  Steele will give more 3-4 looks and will get more creative with his blitz packages.  We're deeper and more talented (yet fairly young) at linebacker and relatively deep at the bandit position, so don't be surprised to see a Jack linebacker on the field more this season.

Offensive Depth and Tempo:  Changes in offensive strategy this season will affect the defense.  Our offensive strategy is to get as many possessions as possible.  Consequently, the opposition will get more possessions as well AND our offensive possessions will be shorter in duration that last season.  This means that the defense will be on the field a lot more now than before.  We'll need more depth and better conditioning to combat these extra possessions.  We'll be watching to see what this extra stress does to this unit and how they persevere late in football games.  Keep this in mind before you get all fired up when defensive statistics look bad compared to other teams around the country and previous seasons' stats.

Special Teams

We don't even try to get into the heads of the kickers, we just pray when Swinney sends the PK unit in.  Hopefully we'll master the art of the snap this season as well as the actual kick.  Here is how the CUAD had the two-deep looking after Spring practice (there was no allocation for return men, as it would certainly be incorrect given the nature of those roles):














Spencer Benton












Spencer Benton






Phillip Fajgenbaum





Michael Sobeski






Dawson Zimmerman




Notice Michael Wade's role is filled by Dawson Zimmerman.  We'll definitely miss Wade on special teams this season.  Honestly, Zimmerman is the only player listed above that I am completely comfortable with at this point.  He punted very well last season and used his athleticism on several occasions to field very poor snaps and make the best of them (often saving Clemson a sure turnover and/or blocked punt).  Catman is listed as the starter but we'll see how that pans out.  The practice All-Star never could hit when needed in games but allegedly has been tweeking things over the Winter/Spring.  Expect true freshman Lakip (info below) to immediately press Catanzaro for his job.  Look for the PK battle to continue through August and possibly into the season.  With Catman receiving a scholly earlier this month, we EXPECT one of our three kickers to make reasonable kicks this fall.  Trust me, if we cannot snap and kick the ball, you'll be sure to hear about it (probably in unfavorable language) here at STS




High School


Rivals Rating

Ammon Lakip


Alpharetta, GA



2 stars


Clemson as a team will need to get used to the adjusted in-game tempo.  This means we'll need to be a much better conditioned football team and, overall, actually did look the part from the weigh in videos I've seen.  We do have a lineman or two who should have stepped away from the buffet and onto the treadmill but I was pretty pleased with what I saw out of the other linemen especially when compared to last season.  Tajh Boyd looked like he'd been working hard all summer.  I've heard he was persistent on his mechanics and really hope I'll be impressed off-season improvements, so I'm eager here as well.

Game tempo also requires extended depth.  We need depth to emerge behind both sets of lines in particular.  I am confident the receivers can quickly build depth with the incoming help and that we'll find someone to quell Andre Ellington among the stable of backs we have.  We've beaten into the ground the need for interior defensive lineman depth and, at this point, really just have our fingers crossed hoping for some good news.  Linebacker has quality young talent that should see the field this season.  We are deep but fairly inexperienced in the secondary but are confident that Coach Cheese will get good things out of these guys.

We've argued before that this team isn't tough enough and won't go out and punch someone in the mouth from the first whistle.  With the addition of Coach Caldwell and Coach Morris, we expect a raised level of intensity up front that will make us a tougher team on offense.  Caldwell instills this attitude in his players and Morris won't let the receivers get away with the crap we've seen out of them over the past few years, particularly the subpar perimeter blocking.  We haven't had as big of a problem defensively other than players taking plays off and not developing as quickly as they probably should.  Bowers and Sapp are both excellent examples of this.  Brandon Thompson's comment about not being in football shape and getting after it all the time solidify that we aren't all the way there with defensive attitude, however.  A tough attitude shows on the football field.

This team will need to learn how to win.  One can only learn how to win as a group by facing adversity and finding a way to end up on top.  Over the past 6-7 years we have not been able to capture the close games because we found a way to lose a lot of these contests at the end.  This has to change before we'll ever win 10 games again.

We are going to have some growing pains over the year and particularly through fall drills.  With so much player turnover on defense, coaching turnover on offense, a new offensive system, and a ton of very talented freshmen, there is no way around it.  Compare that with the poor results we saw last season on offense and kicking the football, and change and the issues that come along with it cannot necessarily be a bad thing for this team.