The TE position has been good to Clemson throughout most of the Dabo Swinney era. With guys like Brandon Ford, Dwayne Allen, and Jordan Leggett, it was a position that the team saw a lot of production from. Since Leggett’s departure to the NFL after the 2016 season however, the Tigers have had a problem getting production from the TE position in the passing game.
Braden Galloway was supposed to change all that in 2019. Unfortunately, due to archaic NCAA rules, the sophomore TE is suspended until the end of December. That means it’s possible the Tigers are looking at a third consecutive season in which they don’t get a whole lot of production from the position when it comes to the passing game.
JC Chalk is a redshirt junior and started camp listed at the top of the depth chart. During his career, he's not been much of a receiving threat however. In the twelve games he's seen action in, he's logged 151 snaps and has caught just 4 passes for 40 yards.
Chalk just isn’t the guy that’s going to make a splash in the passing game. He’s much more of a blocking TE like Garrett Williams was last season. In this offense, the goal is to create mismatches with the TE and Chalk hasn’t shown that kind of speed. He could still see the field plenty, but his contributions are more likely to come in the running game or pass protection as a blocker.
Behind Chalk, you have two true freshmen, Jaelyn Lay and Davis Allen. When asked about what kind of impact he expects from these two as camp got underway, Jeff Scott replied, “I think they are going to have an impact because they are going to play, just based on where our numbers are.”
Honestly, that’s saying a lot without saying much at all. Sure, one or both could have an impact, but what kind of impact?There’s a lot that goes into playing the tight end position in this offense and it’s extremely difficult for freshman to digest it all and translate it onto the field in one season. If you need an example, look no further than Galloway’s freshmen campaign in 2018.
Lay is without question, a physical specimen. At 6’6, it’s fun to imagine the havoc he could wreak in the future. He came into camp weighing in at 273 lbs and there were reports he was a little sluggish the first couple of days of camp.
Since then however, he's been the recipient of a lot of praise from coaches. If Lay is indeed ready to contribute in a big way, that could add another dimension to this already potent offense that we have not seen the last two seasons.
Davis Allen looks to be more in the mold of JC Chalk and Garrett Williams. Allen was rated as the 15th best H-Back TE prospect in the country by ESPN last year. He has also been hampered by injury and spent a lot of time in camp wearing the yellow “no contact” jersey.
If the Tigers are going to get more out of their tight ends in the passing game in 2019, it’s likely to fall on Lay. He was an early enrollee, and that gives him a head start on learning the offense, but even with the head start, expecting him to come in and make a major contribution is a big ask of a true freshman.
We could be in store for more of what we saw in 2018. When the tight end is flexed out, it will generally be more as a decoy, and a way to create a mismatch for one of the many talented wide receivers the Tigers have on their roster. Beyond that, TEs will be primarily used in the blocking game and we could even see more five receiver sets than in the past. It’ll be interesting to see how they use the position and what happens with the development of Jaelyn Lay (will he emerge as a significant receiving threat as a true freshman?) and a possible postseason return for Braden Galloway (at the completion of his one-year suspension).