I know the last post was pessimistic but overall we are in a much better place in terms of roster development and overall continuity than we were just 2-3 years ago. We also have coaches who can teach and develop players mentally--so we can expect improvement. I love the way Coach Reed has turned around Harbison's mess in such a short time, for example.
But wait before I begin with the positives, I found some more specific nit-picky negatives I have to add. Don't worry, just some harmless bullet points.
- Safety and run discipline. Specifically on run defense we had some problems with gap integrity (I said that before but here are players and examples). Gibson is going to wow people with big hits but still needs some mental maturing. He let Williams and other receivers burn him on a couple of big plays. Green missed a run fill on CJ Davidson that sprung him for a big TD gain. Boulware did not have a great game and missed a couple of assignments while DEs were shaky setting the edge.
- Kickoffs were bad but so was the kick coverage. Guys getting to the 30-35 yard line before even being touched. Just poor execution despite the chopped up teams.
- You could see the clear difference between Venables grayshirt guy, J. Williams, and the twins. Williams is a player and a great pickup as a grayshirt. Certainly made a ton of mistakes but showed so toughness and athleticism. I think he will contribute down the road, in the coming years (wait that was kind of positive).
- Center snaps are still a work in progress.
- Specifics on Dlinemen: Dane Rogers is at DT but doesn't play with great leverage and needs to continue to refine technique, Ebo lacks consistency--he has some good reps and then awful ones, Aiken isn't explosive enough at WDE, Dodd needs to play meaner and develop as a finisher around the ball.Yeargin is a guy who could put it together, but will be liability against the run until he can bulk up more. Register could be a contributor down the line and I like his potential at DE more than LB.
Ok Ok, positives.
1. Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen
It has been so long since I have seen that level of technique in true freshman. It has been decades at Clemson. Both need to make strength gains this offseason, especially Fruh in the upper body. Both got blown up at times and looked like freshmen. But man, watching Fruh turn a defensive player with correct hand placement--I think I shed a tear or something.
Mitch Hyatt was going against our All-American candidate in Shaq Lawson. Either Lawson has regressed (which would mean we would be screwed this year) or Mitch is the real deal. I don't think he overtakes Battle but Battle won't be able to get into any kind of hissy fit on the sidelines this year. Hyatt is being groomed at LT, but I do think he will slide over to RT if Gore struggles. Gore was alright, but the difference between him and Fruh was nowhere near where it should have been. It is so refreshing to see lineman with some proper hand placement and technique. It is obvious why they moved everyone else inside. Also liked what I saw from Crowder in run blocking, moving people off the ball.
Very obvious why everyone else was moved inside where they have a chance to be contributors. Hearn and Morris were not going to compete with these guys in the long run. Those guys look much better inside. Falcinelli struggled with shotgun snaps at times, but gives us a viable option if Guillermo can't rejoin the team.
I give credit to the two headed Scott/Elliott monster for ratcheting up the tempo. Tempo helps mask other deficiencies you have as an offense and as a play caller. Speed kills not just with players but with coaches too. I think DC's can beat our co-OC's in game planning, but our pace means that defensive players mentally wear down if we can get initial first downs. It is a smart and important strategy. Picking up the pace also means that your practices are more efficient.
I like that we have scaled things back with the inexperienced QB's and inexperienced co-OC's, as long as we continue to play at a breakneck speed.
3. Deep WR Group
This may be one of the most talented and deepest WR units in college football. Scott is really developing, even better than I thought he would as a recruit. That TD ball was pretty well defended by Baker but Scott just made a play. Williams is getting better and could leave after this season. Hopper has shown improvement physically, but just needs to cut down on the drops. Peake finally looks explosive again. Thompson looks like he can contribute.
You add in Deon Cain and Ray Ray and that is a disgusting wealth of talent.
4. We may have some RB depth brewing
Don't look now but the RB position could become a position of strength and depth after a year of starting redshirt and true freshmen at the position. We aren't elite yet but are transitioning into being above average. With an improved offensive line, we may be on to something.
Gallman has added a bit of bulk to his lower body and is starting to look like a legit running back threat. He has solidified his position as the number one back. Dye is rounding into shape. He needs to regain some of his explosiveness, but it will come with time and improved conditioning. Zac Brooks still doesn't have the lower body mass he needs. I think he can be a change of pace guy, catching the ball out of the backfield, but I will always be nervous about fumbles. CJ Davidson did not have a great Spring, beset with injuries, but looked much faster than last year during the game. He needs to continue to maintain his speed because that is where he can make a real contribution to the team. Hopefully, we can redshirt Choice. CJ Fuller is also showing me something he didn't his senior year. He is transitioning his body from the baby fat he came to campus with and runs with some authority in the whole.
You add in Feaster next year with an improved offensive line and you have a legit running attack.
5. The QB's weren't that bad
Nice to see Watson taking everything so seriously and having him standing with Swinney. Sends a good message to the team.
The two true freshmen QB's had some ugly moments, but they both had really outstanding moments too. Bryant's legs were taken away, which really makes him a dynamic threat (although he did fumble once), but you can see his high ceiling and potential in this offense. I have seen enough to think that he and Cooper will compete in the future for the position after Deshaun Watson heads tot he NFL.
That is not to say that Tucker Israel isn't rounding into a competent backup. He needs a lot of work running some of the zone running concepts and his height will be a limiting factor, but he can make some throws. He would be a perfect backup QB down the road if we can keep him from transferring.
Nick Schuessler does deserve a lot of credit. He can make the short and intermediate throws. He will struggle to make deep throws with accuracy and you saw that he missed a couple of would-be touchdowns and underthrew Renfrow on a defensive bust that would have been a walk-in TD. Still, we might get away with redshirting both true freshmen and that would be big. Bryant should overtake both of them with his evolving talent but definitely would benefit in the long run from the redshirt year.
Other minor positives--TE could be improved. I like what I see from Leggett so far. He is slowly buying into being a more consistent blocker. Cannon Smith isn't going to stretch the field or flex out all that much, but he can block on the line and has good hands. Milan Richards will be a beast and it was unfortunate that he got injured and missed all those reps. Seckinger will be back and does what he does but hopefully won't be as crummy a blocker again this year.
Kendall Joseph had some really nice instinctive plays and has Venables trust as the backup MLB. Played much faster than I thought he would.
Scott and Hopper looked good in punt returns (although the coverage looked pretty bad too).
Overall the team looks to be in a good position at this point (other than defensive end) and further along than other years. Fewer question marks and quality depth. Watching FSU's Spring game--they had explosive plays from future freshmen weapons but the defense will take a step back and the QB position is a huge question mark. We don't have those kinds of huge question marks this Spring. It is all about building quality depth, staying healthy, and pushing some positions to make the jump from average to above average. That is really all we need and there is a lot to be optimistic about heading into the Summer.