clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2015 Clemson Football Season Review: Tight Ends

New, 83 comments

This is where I eat some crow and say nice things about our tight ends.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

Writing this season review has been encouraging. I fully admit that I take Clemson football too seriously and that I allow it to effect my emotions more than is reasonable for a grown man. However, the fact remains that us losing the national championship still hurts. It is hard for me to be genuinely happy with this past season at this point. Forcing myself to focus on the season as a whole, not just the last game, has helped me begin to see how special the whole thing was. The performance of our tight ends this past season was a small microcosm of the team as a whole. I expected very little from them—the TEs specifically, and the team as a whole—and will gladly eat my big plate of crow. Consider this article my first helping.

In the conclusion of the season preview, I said, "Without a Dwayne Allen or Brandon Ford type player, with both talent and experience, and with the electric wideouts we'll have all over the field, I don't believe that our TEs will play a major role in the passing game." I was obviously wrong. I offered a precise prediction of how much of a role the TEs would play in the passing game. I believed, "our tight ends will only account for 425 yards, and they will only catch 5 touchdowns." Those numbers were based on my estimate of how our offense would do overall and the assumption that ScElliott would call plays similarly to their predecessor. Under Chad Morris, it was typical of our TEs to account for 15% of the team’s receptions, 13% of the team’s receiving yards, and 25% of the team’s receiving TDs. I projected we would throw for under 4,000 yards this season and that our TEs would slightly under-perform the expected average.

On the season, Clemson QBs threw 356 completions for 4,373 yards and 35 TDs. So, for starters, Clemson passed for 500 more yards on the season than I expected. My miscalculation is partly due to the fact that we played one extra game than I expected us to play and partly due to the fact that I underestimated this offense a bit. I also underestimated this group of TEs. The 2015 TEs as a group accounted for 43 receptions (12% of all receptions) for 550 yards (12.5% of receiving yards) and 8 TDs (23% of receiving TDs). They exceeded my expectations, catching slightly fewer passes than the historical average, but roughly matching the historical averages for number of yards and TDs.

My pessimism in regards to the TEs was justified. Production from the TEs had been on a steady decline since Dwayne Allen left. That decline was extreme in the 2014 season, with Jordan Leggett, Stanton Seckinger, and J.J. McCullough primarily manning the position. Reading my preview article, I was so down on these three, that I thought a Richard Milan, a redshirt freshman, or Garrett Williams, a true freshman, would overtake them fairly quickly. McCullough couldn’t stay out of Dabo’s doghouse. Seckinger was a liability trying to block and shaky as a passing target. And while Leggett’s athleticism and promise had made him the heir-apparent to the Dwayne Allen/Brandon Ford legacy since the day he stepped on campus, he had yet to realize that promise. Leggett’s impressive spring game and the positive reports out of fall camp this past season were eerily similar to what we saw and heard prior to the 2014 season, when reports stated that Leggett had finally put it all together. I was burned by being optimistic going into 2014 and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake in my 2015 preview. I said in that preview article, in regards to Leggett being a major and reliable part of our offense, "Excuse me if I need to see it before I'll believe it." Well, I’ve seen it.

Jordan Leggett emerged as the obvious number one at TE, a serious receiving threat this past season, and even finished as a finalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. He accounted for 40 of the 43 receptions by our TEs, 525 of the 550 receiving yards, and all 8 of the receiving TDs. Leggett was third on the team in receptions, fourth on the team in receiving yards, and he led the team in TD receptions (Artavis Scott was second with 6 TDs). Among ACC TEs, Leggett was 3rd in receptions, 4th in receiving yards, and 1st in receiving TDs. In fact, Leggett’s 8 TDs were tied for second most among all receivers in the ACC. Among all FBS TEs, Leggett tied for 15th in receptions, was 17th in receiving yards, and tied for 2nd in receiving TDs—only one behind the national leader. Leggett was a consistent weapon for us, registering a catch in all 15 games of the season, and he was at his best in the biggest games.

Leggett caught the first TD of the game against Notre Dame. He only had one other catch the rest of the game (Watson only completed 10 total), but this grab gave the team a much needed boost of confidence early on. Similarly, this game as a whole gave the team a much needed boost of confidence after struggling at Louisville.


Leggett’s biggest game in terms of receptions and receiving yards came against Florida State. In the annual Atlantic Division title game, Leggett caught 6 passes for 101 yards, his only 100 yard receiving game of the year. The game not only locked up Clemson’s spot in the ACC title game, it also vindicated Clemson’s number one ranking in the initial CFP poll.

In the ACC title game, Leggett was held to just three catches for 24 yards. However, one of those three catches was on a crucial play just before the half. After another head-scratching decision just before the half, Leggett hauled in a TD on a beautifully designed play just before time expired.

Finally, in the national championship game, Leggett hauled in 5 catches for 78 yards. Watson threaded a needle to Leggett who held on for a TD in the waning seconds of the game. The TD kept a glimmer of hope alive for a dramatic comeback.

It is harder to quantify the improvement our TEs made in their blocking ability. One could point to our improved rushing statistics as one piece of evidence. As a team, Clemson ran for 3,345 yards and 34 TDs this past season. That’s up from 1,904 yards and 20 TDs in 2014. Our yards-per-carry average went up from 3.5ypc to 4.9ypc. Those are pretty incredible jumps. The increased rushing productivity is more a result of an improved offensive line, an inspired Wayne Gallman, and the mobility of Deshaun Watson. However, we have to give the TEs a little bit of credit as well.

On a number of occasions, our TEs set the edge, protected the backside well, got to the second level, and even surprised us all by opening up a hole in a short-yardage situation…

Tough to run between the tackles unless Garrett Williams is leading the way.

and even blowing up a defender or two.

Double whammy.

I’m not trying to say that these guys turned into road-graters or anything. They still had their moments. However, the improvement in blocking from last year to this year was noticeable and appreciated.

Stats

Receptions

Yards

TDs

Jordan Leggett

40

525

8

Stanton Seckinger

3

35

0

These were the only TEs that caught a pass. I don't have access to snap counts. If I can get my hands on them, I'll post them too.

Strengths

The biggest strength of this group was definitely Jordan Leggett’s pass-catching ability. Leggett finally had the season that many thought he was capable of having. He terrorized teams over the middle. With the two-headed monster of Gallman and Watson in the backfield, linebackers and safeties were forced to crowd the line and respect the run on every down. Even on obvious passing downs, Watson’s scrambling ability meant a linebacker or safety was forced to spy him, lest they forfeit an easy first down. And with all the weapons Clemson has at WR, DBs were drawn deep and to the sidelines. That left a massive opening right in the middle of the field for Leggett. How many times this year did we see Leggett and those long, socked legs go galloping up the seam with no one around him? A surprising number of our big plays in the passing game were to Leggett over the middle.

While I hesitate slightly to list it as a "strength," I have to say again that the improved blocking from Leggett and the TEs as a whole was really encouraging. I had serious doubts about our rebuilt offensive line going into the season. I thought we’d have a hard time running the ball, and I feared for Watson’s health in the passing game. Not only did the O-line hold up better than I could’ve dreamed, but the TEs were right there with them. Even if they weren’t blowing people up, they were doing their jobs in the running game. Garrett Williams, especially, deserves some credit for stepping into the H-back role and doing well. And though we rarely keep a TE in for blocking on a pass play, they did okay in that role too. Again, it may be over-stating things to say this is a strength of the TE corps, but the improvement over what we saw in 2014 was phenomenal.

Weaknesses

The only weakness I could think of was a vague sense of toughness. There may be some other technical issues people come point to, but in the end, I just want our TEs to be tougher. Two things come to mind that make me think of this. First of all, and I know this is likely to ignite a debate, I remember Leggett getting out-worked for that jump ball just before the half against Oklahoma. I know throwing the pass wasn’t a great decision to begin with. And I totally agree that the pass should’ve been higher and deeper, so that if Leggett couldn’t get to it, it would sail out the back safely. However, the ball was thrown, and it did come up a little short. I know the DB had position on Leggett. With all that being said, I still think Leggett could have and should have fought for that ball harder. He had a full six inches worth of height advantage over that DB and outweighed him by 70 pounds. Use your size, big man! How often are they going to call offensive pass interference in that kind of situation? Go up and fight for the ball, Leggett! Don’t try to just reach over him.

Secondly, while I have praised the improved blocking abilities of this group, I’d love to see it continue to improve. Seeing Clemson line up in a power package and run the ball right down Alabama’s throat for a TD made me proud. Garrett Williams, a true freshman, blew up the All-American Reggie Ragland to give Gallman enough room to score. That’s the kind of hard-nosed blocking a team should expect from a TE. Even though a guy like Leggett is primarily a pass-catching TE, I would love to see him really punishing some linebackers and defensive backs on running plays. I want to see Garrett Williams in at H-back for more of those short-yardage plays. I love our offensive identity, but I would love to see us drop the hammer with a jumbo package when we need a yard or two instead of depending on Watson to run between the tackles. Improved TE blocking would help make that possible.

Losses

Stanton Seckinger was a graduate senior this past year, so his eligibility is done. Seckinger redshirted his freshman year, then played sparingly in 2012. His role in the offense peaked in 2013 when he started 10 games, catching 21 passes for 244 yards and 4 TDs. He fell behind Jordan Leggett last season and saw limited action this year. Seckinger played WR in high school, and he never truly grew into the role of TE. His blocking has been a liability. While he has generally been reliable in the passing game, he lacks the size of a traditional TE and the speed of a traditional WR. Many have been hard on Seckinger in the past, usually with good reason. But he was never a problem, stuck it out for five years, and never seemed to complain. For that, I applaud him. He was a solid role player and a good teammate. Here are my favorite memories of Stanton Seckinger:

A nice tight-rope play along the sidelines wound up being the game-winning TD in an exciting season opener versus Georgia.

Another trick play to the tight end. This, too, wound up being the game-winning TD.

I know I’ve already posted this, but it may have been the best block he threw in his career. This is great effort from a guy who knows he’s not going to the next level, who’s at the end of a five year career, and who’s been passed on the depth chart after being a starter. Well done, Seckinger.

We will also be losing J.J. McCullough due to his own idiotic behavior. I have yet to hear any official explanation of what team rules he violated, but a failed drug test is the only rumor I’ve heard floating around. McCullough had some athleticism, but couldn’t stay out of Dabo’s doghouse long enough to do anything with it. I hate to see any player lost to poor behavior, but the coaching staff was plenty gracious with J.J. The football team will be fine without him, but I hope he gets his head on straight and finds the right path in life.

Coach

Danny Pearman is the most beloved coach on Dabo Swinney’s staff. Did I do it right? It’s no secret that Pearman is not STS’s favorite coach. He has a poor recruiting record. Sometimes it feels like we have completely ceded Charlotte to the North Carolina schools and the SEC, but I digress; this isn’t a recruiting article.

Pearman has the distinction of having coached two NFL tight ends. Pearman came to Clemson in 2009 and saw Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford come through the program. His stock fell as TE production decreased in 2013 and 2014. Did Pearman forget how to coach? Or was he the victim of a lack of talent? It’s hard to say for sure, but probably a little of both. You can’t teach size, which Seckinger lacked. And you can’t teach heart, which Leggett admittedly didn’t have early in his career. Pearman helped shape Allen and Ford into NFL caliber TEs, and once Leggett started putting in the effort, his play improved dramatically. It seems that Pearman can direct the development of good players to help them maximize their potential. He doesn’t seem to be able to push guys that aren’t self-motivated though. I still have lingering questions about his ability to coach TEs as blockers as well. The general lack of toughness is also something that I think could be traced back to him. That isn’t meant to question Pearman’s own toughness, but is meant to question whether or not his coaching creates the type of hard-nosed, physical play I expect out of TEs.

The other question mark hanging over Pearman is his effectiveness as a special teams coach. Ryan will get into this a little more in a future article, but it appears that Pearman is only responsible for punts—return and coverage. It’s hard to find positive things to say about our special teams right now, but I’ll try. We are "Fair Catch U" on punt returns. If my memory serves me correctly, Adam Humphries punt return for a TD last year against Louisville is our only punt return TD since Spiller and Ford graduated after the ’09 season. Thankfully, we have cut down the number of muffed catches, but we rarely, if ever, have a positive gain on a punt return. With all the electric talent we have at WR, RB, and elsewhere, it’s embarrassing for us to be ranked 122nd out of 127 teams in punt return average. I don’t remember us even trying to block a punt. Then again, maybe we’ve tried and it’s been such a pathetic attempt that I didn’t even notice.

On the flip side, we have been okay covering punts. I don’t remember the last time we had one blocked, and we have been able respectable at covering punts. We finished the year 33rd in punt return coverage and didn’t give up a single punt return TD this season. It’s hard to know if we’re getting the most out of Teasdall or if he’s maxed out his abilities. I don’t know if Pearman had anything to do with the design, practice, and/or call for the fake punt against Oklahoma, but if he did, that would cover a multitude of his other special teams sins.

In the end, it’s hard for me to get past some of Pearman’s short-comings. Sure, he has coached two NFL tight ends and a Mackey Award finalist, but it’s not clear to me how much Pearman had to do with that and how much of their success was due to God-given talent and personal motivation. Pearman is doing okay, but I feel like Clemson could upgrade this position coach.

Conclusion

I love the taste of crow. I wanted to see proof that Leggett had finally turned a corner, and he delivered. Getting him to come back for one more season is another great 6-star recruit for the Tiger offense. Knowing that the young talent behind him is as good, if not better, than he is, means this position group should be a strength for the foreseeable future. I am excited to see what this group can do going forward.