May 27, 2015

Depth Depleted Along D-Line, but Talent to Reload Exists

Shaq Lawson

VenablesOne of the biggest storylines around this year’s Clemson football team just got bigger — or thinner, depending on how you look at it.

Even before head coach Dabo Swinney’s announcement yesterday morning that Ebenezer Ogundeko had been dismissed from the football team “for a violation of team rules and behavior detrimental” to the team, it was widely known the Tigers’ defensive line depth has diminished from last season’s top-ranked defense.

Six of the eight players who received at least one start along Clemson’s defensive front a year ago have departed campus and landed on an NFL team.

The Falcons used their first- and fifth-round picks on Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett before Tavaris Barnes, Corey Crawford, Josh Watson and DeShawn Williams signed free-agent deals with the Saints, Redskins, Broncos and Bengals, respectively.

This was Ogundeko’s opening for increased playing time heading into his sophomore season, but his future at Clemson would soon evaporate after he was arrested and charged with one count of financial transaction card fraud due to his work with another person to alter the number on the magnetic strip on the back of his credit card, which multiple sources reported.

Ogundeko — a former four-star recruit from Brooklyn, N.Y., who redshirted during the 2013 season prior to playing in seven games and logging a handful of tackles last year — was carving out a more sizable role and primed to be one of the first names called as a substitution at defensive end.

“I’ve seen Ebo grow and improve,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said following Clemson’s second scrimmage of the spring on April 1. “He’s gotten better.”

“Ebo showed that he can play winning football,” Venables added after the spring game later in the month.D.J. Reader closes in on an S.C. State runner

Now without his services, and without other front-four cogs that combined for 23 of the 29 sacks the Tigers’ defensive line accounted for in 2014, Clemson doesn’t have the wealth of seasoned options at defensive end and defensive tackle that were there a season ago.

But though the team retained just three players with starting experience up front, the makeup and outlook of the expected starting unit is solid.

And behind them, there are players who have the potential to replenish the line’s depth and eventually, as they get more reps and game action, reduce the drop-off that is bound to occur when so many contributors pack up and move on.

“I think we’ll be strong up front,” Venables said following the spring game. “We’ve got to continue to develop and continue to get better in our pass rush.”

Shaq Lawson (one career start), who entered college as the No. 1 prep school prospect in the nation, has shown signs of stardom while waiting to start and is ready to break out in that role during his junior campaign. Similarly, Kevin Dodd has waited three years for his shot and will get it opposite Lawson at the other end spot.Shaq Lawson

In between them, senior D.J. Reader (four career starts) and junior Carlos Watkins (one career start) will step in as first-team tackles.

The composition of the second team and how it will be deployed is unclear, but talent is present.

One player in particular who caught the eye of Venables during the spring is defensive end Richard Yeargin III, who redshirted in 2014 after signing with Clemson as a three-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“Richard Yeargin has really shown something,” Venables said after the Tigers’ second spring scrimmage. “He’s starting to play faster, stronger, just playing more sure of himself, getting more comfortable. He’s still got to take another step, but I’ve been pleased with some things from him, as well.”

Scott Pagano, a Hawaii native and four-star signee in the 2013 recruiting class, Jabril Robinson, a three-star member of the 2014 class, and highly touted early enrollees Albert Huggins and Sterling Johnson will battle for alignment at defensive tackle behind Reader and Watkins, who said he isn’t overwhelmed by his new task of being a leader and mentor of the young assets.

Clemson football - Scott Pagano

Clemson football – Scott Pagano

“I kind of feel (the pressure),” Watkins said during the spring, “but you know what your goal is when you’re coming in, and you know you really can’t fold under pressure because you have younger guys behind you looking up to you, you and you have to be there for them in certain ways and certain areas.”

Summer workouts and fall camp will determine the course of several freshman defensive linemen, including five-star tackle Christian Wilkins and four-star ends Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell, and whether they will redshirt or become complimentary pieces.

Venables said in the spring that it is imperative for these players to begin their quest of restocking the defensive line by “just having a great summer in the next six months.”

“Really locking in and improving, attacking weaknesses and things of that nature,” Venables said. “I think we have a chance to be strong.”

The All Dabo Team

Dabo Swinney

Editor’s Note: Chris Cox writes about Clemson recruiting on his site Tiger Talk.  You can follow Chris on Twitter at @TigerTalk_CU

DeAndre HopkinsEver since Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson football program as an interim coach on October 13th, 2008 the program has just been, well, different. Swinney’s enthusiasm, passion, and vision have encompassed every facet of the program, leading to success on the football field. He has compiled a 61-26 overall record including 42 wins in the past four seasons alone. Along with an impressive record, Swinney has helped Clemson produce 33 NFL draft picks and consecutive bowl wins over perennial powers LSU, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.Beasley NC State

In order for Dabo to achieve this kind of success, he’s had the help of some pretty good players at his disposal. I take a look at those players, leaving out the one’s currently on the roster, and I think you’ll be amazed at the talent Clemson has assembled over the “Dabo years.”

All Dabo Team (2008-2014)

QB
1st Team: Tajh Boyd
2nd Team: Kyle Parker
Honorable Mention: Cullen Harper, Cole Stoudt

RB
1st Team: CJ Spiller
2nd Team: James Davis
Honorable Mention: Andre Ellington, Jamie Harper, Roderick McDowell

WR
1st Team: Sammy Watkins
2nd Team: DeAndre Hopkins
Honorable Mention: Martavis Bryant, Jacoby Ford, Tyler Grisham, Jaron Brown, Aaron Kelly, Adam Humphries

TE
1st Team: Dwayne Allen
2nd Team: Michael Palmer
Honorable Mention: Brandon Ford

OT
1st Team: Chris Hairston
2nd Team: Landon Walker
Honorable Mention: David Smith

OG
1st Team: Brandon Thomas
2nd Team: Tyler Shatley
Honorable Mention: Antoine McClain

C
1st Team: Dalton Freeman
2nd Team: Thomas Austin
Honorable Mention: Mason Cloy

DT
1st Team: Grady Jarrett
2nd Team: Bradon Thompson
Honorable Mention: Jarvis Jenkins, Deshawn Williams

DE
1st Team: Vic Beasley
2nd Team: Da’Quan Bowers
Honorable Mention: Ricky Sapp, Andre Branch, Kourtnei Brown, Malliciah Goodman, Tavares Barnes, Corey Crawford

ILB
1st Team: Stephone Anthony
2nd Team: Spencer Shuey
Honorable Mention: Kavell Conner

OLB
1st Team: Jonathan Willard
2nd Team: Tony Steward
Honorable Mention: Quandon Christian

CB
1st Team: Marcus Gilchrist
2nd Team: Bashaud Breeland
Honorable Mention: Coty Sensabaugh, Crezdon Butler, Byron Maxwell, Garry Peters

S
1st Team: DeAndre McDaniel
2nd Team: Robert Smith
Honorable Mention: Chris Clemons, Michael Hamlin, Rashard Hall, Jonathan Meeks

K
1st Team: Chandler Catanzaro
2nd Team: Mark Bucholz

P
1st Team: Bradley Pinion
2nd Team: Dawson Zimmerman

Current players who would likely factor into this list in the future:
Isaiah Battle (OT), Travis Blanks (S), Mackensie Alexander (CB), Ben Boulware (OLB), Wayne Gallan (RB), Shaq Lawson (DE), Charone Peake (WR), DJ Reader (DT), Mike Williams (WR, Tyrone Crowder (OG), Jayron Kearse (S), Artavis Scott (WR), Deshaun Watson (QB), Korrin Wiggins (S)

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Gallman remains ahead of the pack at running back

Clemson Football - Wayne Gallman

Editor’s note: Gavin Oliver is a Clemson student and has done freelance work for The (Seneca) Journal, Tiger Illustrated and Orange: The Experience.

Wayne Gallman seized the opportunity to be the Clemson football team’s starting running back five games Clemson Football - Wayne Gallmaninto the 2014 campaign against N.C. State on Oct. 4, and the freshman never relinquished the role, instead ending his final start of the regular season emphatically with nearly 200 yards rushing and a touchdown in the Tigers’ win over South Carolina.

Though he topped all runners with 769 yards a year ago, there is no guarantee the No. 1 gig is his this fall — the reason being replenished health to last year’s diminished backfield that Gallman broke out amongst and stilted with superior performance.

Tyshon Dye — who was handled carefully by the coaching staff when active late in the season following an Achilles injury and the back injury that forced him to redshirt in 2013 but rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns in his only extensive action versus Georgia State — figures to factor, with sustained health, as a dependable runner downhill.

Meanwhile, the return of Zac Brooks from the season-ending foot injury he suffered in August adds a versatile athlete who has flashed skills as a pass-catcher when healthy.

Adam Choice, who led the Tigers with 218 yards at the time of his ACL tear at Boston College in October, will also be in the mix if he can fully recover.

Toss in track speedster C.J. Davidson and his contest-leading 100 yards and two scores on the ground in April’s spring game, redshirt freshman C.J. Fuller, noted by head coach Dabo Swinney in the spring for his explosiveness through the gap and running ability behind his pads, and the presence of five-star athlete Ray-Ray McCloud in the fall, and there are certainly options at Clemson’s disposal.

However, as it stands now in the summer, they are a step behind Gallman, and the shifty back could keep it that way should his improved vision, quick decision-making and burst downfield continue.

“He’s out in front, but it’s real close,” Swinney said following the spring game. “If we were playing today, he’d be the guy you’d want out there, but we have a lot of competition.

“Gallman just continues to just shine. He’s a special talent,” Swinney said earlier in the spring. “All those (running backs), they’re all showing up. It’s just what we’d thought it would be right now — very, very competitive, but Wayne is still, I think, kind of asserting himself as the leader of the group right now.”

Co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott offered more of the same after the spring game.

“I think that Wayne will probably start, and then the guys behind him are all pushing,” Elliott said. “I’d put all the rest of the guys in that category, and saying that without having Wayne get too bigheaded and too confident in himself because he knows that those guys are pushing.”

Gallman found the end zone and averaged north of 10 yards per carry on his seven totes for 71 yards during the spring game and attributed his success to applying what he learned in practice — the kind of coach-ability that is an especially important trait in players when a primary focus of the spring is on sharpening fundamentals.

“I just go into the scrimmage and really focus on what the coaches talk about before we even come out here,” Gallman said, “and that’s just knowing our assignment, doing what we’re supposed to do and having fun with it and trying to elevate the whole offense as a whole. Someone’s got to lead the group, and I’m trying to take ahold of that.”

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound product hasn’t always been as prepared.

Transitioning from a Wing-T offense at Grayson (Ga.) High School to Clemson’s spread offense predicated on tempo slowed Gallman’s learning curve to the next level.

“They had their own little thing at Grayson, and that’s just what they wanted to play me at because I could do so much in high school, and I didn’t mind,” Gallman said. “Running back has always been my position of choice for as long as I’ve been playing football — since I was 5 — but Coach Conn, me and him talked, he does wish he would have put me back there a little bit more because I would have learned a whole lot more about running back and probably have been a whole lot more prepared coming into college.

“But it’s all about how my future has pats out.”

At least for now, his future holds more starts.

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Before the NFL

image11


Editor’s Note: Chris Cox writes about Clemson recruiting on his site Tiger Talk.  You can follow Chris on Twitter at @TigerTalk_CU

Over the past week, a total of 14 Tigers have signed contracts to play professional football, 15 if you want to count Daniel Rodriguez’s rookie camp invite to Washington.

While many of us, myself included, get caught up in the new age recruiting world, this article will show you why all these recruiting services aren’t the final authority on a player’s potential.

Just take a look at the two former Tigers who are headed down to I-85 to play in Atlanta. Top 10 pick Vic Beasley is a guy who came to Clemson as a tight end before moving to linebacker and settling in as a defensive end, where he ultimately became the all-time sack leader in just 3 full seasons.  Then you have Grady Jarrett whose size has been well documented during his journey to the NFL. Ranked as a 2-star prospect coming out of high school, Jarrett was virtually unstoppable during his junior and senior seasons in a Tiger uniform.image1

While most of Clemson’s highly touted prospects over the last few years have lived up to their billing, there have bee a couple that rarely saw the field in a Clemson uniform. Guys like Mike Bellamy and Lateek Townsend are examples of highly rated prospects who, for various reasons, could not deliver on their lofty recruiting rankings.

Following recruiting is both fun and important, but when it comes to production don’t be too quick to judge the little guys. Let them strap it up and prove their worth on the field.

Here’s a look at how these NFL players were ranked before they were Tigers:

Vic Beasley-LB
1st Round to Falcons (#8 overall)
247: 3-star, #483 overall, #22 TE
Rivals: 3-star, NR overall, #37 ATH

Stephone Anthony-LB
1st Round to Saints (#31 overall)
247: 5-star, #10 overall, #1 OLB
Rivals: 5-star, #24 overall, #3 OLB

Grady Jarrett-DT
5th Round to Falcons (#137 overall)
247: 2-star, #1416 overall, #100 DT
Rivals: 3-star, NR overall, NR DT

Bradley Pinion-P
5th Round to 49ers (#165 overall)
247: 3-star, #1375 overall, #1 P
Rivals: 3-star, NR overall, #4 K

Tony Steward-LB
6th Round to Bills (#188 overall)
247: 5-star, #12 overall, #2 OLB
Rivals: 5-star, #13 overall, #1 OLB

Tavaris Barnes-DE
Signed FA contract with Saints
247: 4-star, #381 overall, #23 SDE
Rivals: 4-star, NR overall, #29 DT

Corey Crawford-DE
Signed FA contract with Redskins
247: 4-star, #193 overall, #14 SDE
Rivals: 4-star, NR overall, #20 SDE

Kalon Davis-OG
Signed FA contract with Broncos
247: 3-star, #712 overall, #35 OG
Rivals: 3-star, NR overall, #34 OG

Adam Humphries-WR
Signed FA contract with Buccaneers
247: 2-star, #1579 overall, #201 WR
Rivals: 2-star, NR overall, NR WR

Garry Peters-CB
Signed FA contract with Panthers
247: 3-star, #324 overall, #22 CB
Rivals: 4-star, NR overall, #20 CB

Robert Smith-S
Signed FA contract with Colts
247: 2-star, #1480 overall, #109 S
Rivals: 3-star, NR overall, NR ATH

Cole Stoudt-QB
Signed FA contract with Chargers
247: 3-star, #711 overall, #24 PRO
Rivals: 3-star, NR overall, #21 PRO

Josh Watson-DT
Signed FA contract with Broncos
247: 3-star, #5 JUCO, #1 JUCO DT
Rivals: 4-star, NR overall, NR DT

DeShawn Williams-DT
Signed FA contract with Bengals
247: 3-star, #628 overall, #49 DT
Rivals: 3-star, NR overall, NR DT

 

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Recruiting: Back to the Future – 2017 & ’18 Clemson Offers

Dabo Swinney

Editor’s Note: Chris Cox writes about Clemson recruiting on his site Tiger Talk.  You can follow Chris on Twitter at @TigerTalk_CU

With the spring evaluation period in full swing, Clemson coaches have wasted no time in letting offering several 2017 and 2018 prospects.  We’ll take a brief look at some of the players who have garnered offers from the Tigers. While several of these players will choose to play elsewhere and the Tigers will not get heavily involved with many of these prospects, spreading a wide array of offers is almost necessary in order to survive in this dog eat dog recruiting world. We’ve seen time and time again that these early offers tend to create some staying power for the Tigers in the recruitment of many of these prospects.

Here’s an introduction to Clemson’s recent offers:

Justin Foster-2017 (Offered January 15th)

5-star LB out of Shelby, NC

Offers: Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, NC State, Tennessee, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

 

Tank Robinson-2017 (Offered March 8th)

Safety out of Santee, SC

Offers: Clemson, South Carolina

 

Stanford Samuels III-2017 (Offered March 11th)

5-star CB out of Hollywood, FL

Offers: Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, NC State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, TCU, Tennessee, South Carolina, UCLA, West Virginia

 

William Poole III-2017 (Offered April 5th)

4-star CB out of Atlanta, GA

Offers: Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Miami, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech

 

Lowell Narcisse-2017 (Offered April 20th)

4-star QB out of Saint James, LA

Offers: Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Arizona State, Illinois, LSU 

**Nephew of former Tiger Chad Jasmin**

 

Lorenzo Lingard-2018 (Offered Aprill 22nd)

RB out of Orange City, FL

Offers: Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Iowa, Miami, South Carolina

 

Joey Gatewood-2018 (Offered April 22nd)

QB out of Jacksonville, FL

Offers: Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Louisville, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon State, South Carolina, UCLA, Utah

**Attends same high school as former Tiger quarterback Kyle Parker**

 

Juwan Burgess-2017 (Offered Aprill 22nd)

4-star WR out of Tampa Florida

Offers: Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Miami, North Carolina, Ohio State, UCLA, Virginia Tech

 

Drew Singleton-2017 (Offered April 23rd)

4-star OLB out of Paramus, NJ

Offers: Clemson, Alabama, Ole Miss, Michigan, Rutgers

 

Corey Bolds-2017 (Offered April 23rd)

4-star DT out of Paramus, NJ

Offers: Clemson, Michigan, North Carolina, Rutgers

 

Chandler Wooten-2017 (Offered April 23rd)

OLB out of Kennesaw, GA

Offers: Clemson, Kentucky, Louisville, Nebraska, Penn State

 

Shawn Robinson-2017 (Offered April 23rd)

5-star QB out of Denton, TX

Offers: Clemson, Alabama, Arizona State, Baylor, LSU, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Ole Miss, TCU, Texas, USC

 

Josh Kaindoh-2017 (Offered April 23rd)

4-star WDE out of Essex, MD

Offers: Clemson, Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Maryland, Penn State, Ohio State

 

Chris Ingram-2017 (Offered April 29th)

CB out of Mount Ulla, NC

Offers: Clemson, East Carolina, NC State

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Geek Speak: Why Every Yard Matters, The Relationship Between Yards & Points

Random Numbers

One of the most important statistics in football is also one of the most basic – total yards. If you knew nothing else about two teams,  be it records, point spread, who was favored and who was the underdog or any other in game stat, but you knew who had the most total yards you would have a 75% chance of picking the winner.

Closer to home Clemson went 9-1 in games where they out gained opponents and 1-2 when being out gained.

It’s usually at this point that football savants remind me of the teams who gained more yards than their opponents and lost as proof that I’m “wrong”.  Maybe they feel like I’m taking the physicality and strategy out of football by assigning a value to each yard gained (more on this below), but really the point of this is to reinforce the importance of each and every yard gained or lost, emphasizing the importance of the physical nature and accompanying strategic moves that are part of the game.

Many prefer black and white, yes or no and disdain odds and/or probabilities.  The only metric they are interested in is points.  Getting more than the other team guarantees a win 100% of the time. Nothing else matters.

Yet if a team starts at its own 10, drives 40 yards, punts and their opponent is backed up inside the 10 the team gets 0 points for that drive – but those 40 yards have a value.  Field position has been changed, and so have the odds of winning because of those 40 yards that yielded 0 points.

Every yard is important, at least while the game is in doubt.

Clemson scored on offense, defense, and special teams in 2014.  However, the vast majority of touchdowns (and therefore points) came on offense (89.6% of Clemson touchdowns came on offense) and involved gaining some amount of yards.  Sometimes it takes a lot of yards, sometimes just a few, but by and large you score by gaining yards.

The graph below plots points and yards of every game over the last four years (between 2 FBS teams). The slope should tell you all you need to know.

Yards & PointsYes, there are outliers, but the picture tells a story in 3 words – yards equal points.

Better than that generic “yards equal points” phrase, we are able to determine exactly how many points a team can expect to score based on yards gained.  Even more intriguing than that is the close to perfect symmetry of the numbers below.  For almost every 11 yard increment one additional point can be expected.

Expected Points Per Total Offense

There are no exceptions, meaning there is no instance where gaining more yards means you should expect less points.  It sounds amazingly obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many football fans believe total yards is an irrelevant metric.

Of course, the yards you gain are only part of the game and are therefore relative.  You can expect to score 36 points if you gain 490 yards, but if your defense gives up 510 yards you will most likely lose.

That doesn’t mitigate the overall point, which remains valid – yards are important because the more yards you gain the more points you are likely score – without exception, statistically speaking – and that means the more likely you are to win.

Total yards is certainly not the only metric I use when determining win probabilities, but its an important one that I give significant weight in my calculation.

 

Ranking The ACC Skill Players

ACC Skills

Editor’s Note: Chris Cox writes about Clemson recruiting on his site Tiger Talk.  You can follow Chris on Twitter at @TigerTalk_CU

Chris Cox gives his view on the top 5 ACC players at the skill positions for 2015.

Quarterback

DW SuperGone is the circus act in Jameis Winston, one of the most underrated players in the country in Anthony Boone, and a quarterback who’s career ended just as it started in Tyler Murphy. While those three are gone, every other team in the ACC returns their quarterback, which should make for a interesting conference season.

This may come as a surprise to some, but  a player with only 4 collegiate tops my list of ACC quarterbacks. In his appearances Deshaun Watson was easily the most talented player on the field and he will be equipped with a plethora of weapons at Clemson. If Watson can avoid the injury bug in his sophomore campaign, you can expect the Heisman talk to stir.

Behind Watson sits former Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.  The Wolfpack senior showed flashes of greatness at points last year, but missed some action due to injury. When healthy Brissett can be a dynamic playmaker and features the size (6-4 230lbs) to impress scouts come draft time next year.

Justin Thomas, ranked #3 on my list, could easily be at the top based on how important he is to the Yellow Jacket offense.  Thomas is the most talented quarterback Paul Johnson has had in Atlanta, and he eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark five times last season along with totaling 26 touchdowns. He doesn’t look too shabby throwing the ball either, but will need to find a reliable option with his top two targets in DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller graduating.

Coming in at number 4 on the list is Al’s “Golden” ticket to staying at Miami for another season.  Brad Kayaa is the ACC’s returning leader in passing yards after compiling nearly 3,200 yards in 2014.  The rising sophomore settled in down the stretch as he posted a 13:3 touchdown to interception ratio over his last 7 games.  The offense will likely be centered around Kayaa this year as his All-American running back Duke Johnson bolted early for the NFL.

Rounding out my top 5 is rising senior Marquise Williams.  The numbers are impressive, but Williams needs help from his running backs to ease the pressure on his arm.  He reminds me a lot of former Clemson signal caller Tajh Boyd, but Williams lacks the quality of weapons that Boyd had at his disposal. Williams will get a shot to prove his worth right away in 2015 as the Tar Heels open up with the Gamecocks in Charlotte.

You may have noticed there is not a player listed for Bobby Petrino’s squad up in Louisville.  Whoever wins the spot between Bolin, Bonnafon, and Gardner will have the potential to vault themselves into the top tier based on the offense they play in. Greyson Lambert is also a player to keep an eye on in Charlottesville.  Lambert was a highly touted recruit and is built like an NFL quarterback at 6-5, 235lbs.

All in all these five playmakers listed are going to make watching ACC football a little more interesting this year.

  1. Deshaun Watson (SO)-Clemson

93-137 67.9% 1466 yards 14 TD 2 INT 188.6 RAT

200 rush yards, 5 TD

  1. Jacoby Brissett (SR)-NC State

221-370 59.7% 2606 yards 23 TD 5 INT 136.7 RAT

529 rush yards, 3 TD

  1. Justin Thomas (JR)-GT

96-187 51.3% 1719 yards 18 TD 6  INT 153.9 RAT

1086 rush yards, 8 TD

  1. Brad Kayaa (SO)-Miami

221-378 58.5% 3198 yards 26 TD 12 INT 145.9 RAT

  1. Marquise Williams (SR)-UNC

270-428 63.1% 3068 yards 21 TD 9 INT 135.3 RAT

788 rush yards 13 TD

Watch List: Michael Brewer (VT), Chad Voytik (Pitt), Sean McGuire (FSU), Greyson Lambert (UVA)

 

Running Back

In 2014 the ACC only featured three running backs who eclipsed the 1000 yard rushing mark, although two quarterbacks also reached the mark.  This year the group features two potential Heisman candidates in FSU’s Dalvin Cook and Pitt’s James Conner.Clemson Football - Wayne Gallman

Conner tops my list as he has been a freight train for the Panthers over the last two years.  Conner managed a whopping 26 touchdowns last year, which was 13 more than any other back in the conference. I worry about Conner’s durability due to the fact that he has carried the rock 444 times in his two seasons at Pittsburgh.  If he stays healthy he will squarely be in the mix for Heisman votes.

Behind Conner comes the one-time Clemson and Miami commitment in Dalvin Cook.  Cook emerged as FSU’s best option at running back as the season progressed, but struggled in the CFB semifinal game against Oregon.  With Winston gone, you can expect a lofty workload for the dynamic Cook this coming season.

Behind those two it’s a tossup between several players.  Shadrach Thorton, Jon Hilliman, and Brandon Radcliffe round out my top 5, but you can substitute any of those guys with players on the watch list.

Wayne Gallman of Clemson would easily make the list if he didn’t have to split carries with a loaded backfield and Deshaun Watson.  Miami’s Joseph Yearby will also get his chance to shine now that Duke Johnson is gone, and he could easily vault himself on to the national scene in a hurry.

No Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket on the list you say? Paul Johnson lost both Days and Laskey to graduation, but whoever steps into those shoes will likely put up big numbers based on Johnson’s system.  

  1. James Conner (JR)-Pitt

298 att, 1765 yards, 26 TD

5 rec, 70 yards

  1. Dalvin Cook (SO)-FSU

170 att, 1008 yards, 8 TD

22 rec, 203 yards

  1. Shadrach Thorton (SR)-NC State

164 att, 907 yards, 9 TD

15 rec, 133 yards, 1 TD

  1. Jon Hilliman (SO)-BC

210 att, 860 yards, 13 TD

1 rec, 5 yards

  1. Brandon Radcliffe (JR)-Louisville

144 att, 737 yards, 12 TD

6 rec, 84 yards

Watch List: Wayne Gallman (Clemson), Shaquille Powell (Duke), TJ Logan (UNC), Joseph Yearby (Miami)

 

Wide Receivers

Scott vs OUThe 2014 group of ACC wideouts was an impressive one. Future draft picks DeVante Parker, Rashad Greene, Phillip Dorsett, Jamison Crowder, and DeAndre Smelter are all gone.  While the returning group may not produce as much NFL talent, they will still be pretty stout.

Tyler Boyd has been lights out for the Pitt Panthers and has folks up there reminiscing of the Larry Fitzgerald days.  Boyd features a long frame and is virtually unstoppable when the ball is within his grasps. Over the last 6 games of the season, Boyd amassed five games with over 100 yards receiving including three games over 130 yards.

Following Boyd are a pair of uber talented Tigers.  Artavis Scott burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season, displaying sticky hands and an uncanny ability to navigate through secondaries.  Scott also proved to be a valuable weapon on the jet sweep and almost single handedly defeated in state rival South Carolina with that play.  You can bet that new offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott will find numerous ways to put the ball in their playmaker’s hands.

Opposite of Scott is the big-bodied Mike Williams.  Once a skinny beanstalk, Williams has added the necessary size to go along with his dynamic skill set.  Williams averaged over 18 yards per catch as a sophomore and provides Deshaun Watson with a legitimate deep threat.MW NCS

There’s a drop off after those three, but UNC’s Ryan Switzer is likely the best slot receiver in the conference. He is also a factor in the return game and his elusiveness was displayed by averaging over 20 yards on punt returns.  Fedora loves to toss the pigskin around and Switzer was the number one target last season with 61 receptions in 2014.

Number 5 on my list was tough, but I ultimately went with Isaiah Ford from Virginia Tech. Ford quietly put together an impressive freshmen campaign in Blacksburg and despite having only had one +100 yard receiving game proved to be Mr. Reliable in a stagnant Hokie offense.

As for the watch list, Travis Rudolph is one to keep an eye on down in Tallahassee and Quinshad Davis hopes to finally put together a complete year up in Chapel Hill.

  1. Tyler Boyd (JR)-Pitt

78 rec, 1261 yards, 8 TD

  1. Artavis Scott (SO)-Clemson

76 rec, 965 yards, 8 TD

  1. Mike Williams (JR)-Clemson

57 rec, 1030 yards, 6 TD

  1. Ryan Switzer (JR)-UNC

61 rec, 757 yards, 4 TD

  1. Isaiah Ford (SO)-VT

56 rec, 709 yards, 6 TD

Watch List: Quinshad Davis (UNC), Travis Rudolph (FSU), James Quick (Louisville), Canaan Severin (UVA)

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On Offensive Tempo

Clemson Football -  Deshaun Watson
Tony Elliot - Courtesy Anderson-Independent Mail

Tony Elliot – Courtesy Anderson-Independent Mail

Four years ago Chad Morris left Tulsa for the opportunity to reshape a Clemson offense that had stalled under Billy Napier. The Tigers had pieces, but could never quite put it all together, at least not for any extended period of time.

Morris’ arrival is a tale of  perfect timing. Tajh Boyd had been on campus for 2 years and had seen his first significant playing time in the Meineke Bowl a week or so earlier. There was some receiver named Sammy Watkins coming from Florida, Charone Peake from Dorman, Martavis Bryant made his way from Hargrave Military and Dwayne Allen was about to break out with Morris’ help. Other pieces, now in the NFL, dotted the offensive roster.

Morris promised a “Go until someone tells me whoa” offense and that’s what Tiger fans got. Racing to an 8-0 start, the offense dazzled and by season end operated 14.7% faster than Napier’s 2010 squad, a remarkable leap in year one, especially with an inexperienced quarterback running the show.

That year Clemson ran a play for every 22.4 seconds of possession and the college football world was talking about the fast paced Tiger offense.

There were incremental year over year improvements in the next 2 years (5.4% in 2012 and 3.0% in 2013) and by the end of 2013 the Tigers averaged running a play for every 20.5 seconds of possession.

Boyd’s eligibility expired with an Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State, but the 2014 offense would be led by 4th year senior Cole Stoudt and freshman phenom Deshaun Watson and most expected more of the same tempo-wise. Perhaps not 20.5 seconds, but certainly not a substantial slowdown.Offensive Temp

Yet, that’s exactly what happened. The Tigers slowed to a relative crawl in 2014, running a play every 24.7 seconds, the slowest of the Morris era, but still ahead of Napier’s final season.

While that 4.2 second slower pace may not seem like much, over the course of a game it could mean as many as 15 plays. A 20% decrease means for every 4 plays you ran in 2014, you ran 5 in 2013.

The natural tendency is to look at the season Stoudt had and assume this was somehow related. The fact is that Stoudt started or played the majority (Louisville) of 7 games where the offense operated below (that’s a good thing) their season average in tempo, including the 5 lowest. This wasn’t a Stoudt issue.

The Tigers played slower under Deshaun Watson than they did under Cole Stoudt. The questions are why, is this the new normal and is the up tempo offense that has been the Clemson hallmark during the last 4 seasons a thing of the past?

Some will argue a correlation between the your offensive tempo and your defensive success and on it’s face that seems to be a logical argument as the 2014 defense was the top ranked unit in the land.

The theory is that quick three and outs, which happen can happen a lot under the Hurry Up No Huddle (HUNH) offense, kill your defense by depriving them of rest.

Jeff Scott - Courtesy Anderson-Independent Mail

Jeff Scott – Courtesy Anderson-Independent Mail

That’s difficult to accept when you consider that 36.6% of Clemson’s 2014 offensive possessions were three plays or less (including TDs, turnovers, etc.) and a whopping 57.2% were 5 plays or less, yet the Tigers led the nation in total defense.

While the offensive slowdown may have had something to do with defensive success, it certainly wasn’t the root cause, as the numbers above attest. There were still a large number of 3 and outs and short drives. Going out on a limb, I would suggest the reason the defense was spectacular in 2014 was talent, depth and experience, not the slower pace of the offense.

What will the pace be under Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott? Scott suggested that tempo will be a part of the game plan moving forward, but while you can’t take a lot away from 1 game in a unique setting (with weeks to prepare) in a bowl game, the pace of play in the bowl game (with Stoudt at QB) was nearly identical (24.6 in bowl, 24.7 on season) to the 2014 season average.

Is the HUNH offense we grew to know and love under Morris a thing of the past? If so, will that make it easier on a rebuilding defense? Was the slow down by design or was there another cause? If by design, will the “decided schematic advantage” Clemson enjoyed over the last 4 years be a thing of the past?

We won’t find out the answer to those questions until September and beyond, but the slow down of 2014 is one thing you can’t blame on Cole Stoudt.

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Spring Thoughts: Schuessler Takes Lead In Race For #2

Tucker Israel, Nick Schuessler, Kelly Bryant

Editor’s Note: Nic Mills is a junior PRTM major and student assistant with Clemson Athletic Communication, (formerly known as the Clemson Sports Information Department) and has a long family history of Clemson grads. Nic will be contributing content on football, basketball and baseball for SUR. You can follow Nic on Twitter @mrnicmills.

Last Saturday the three “other” quarterbacks on the Clemson roster had an opportunity to put their name on the line below Deshaun Watson’s on the post-spring depth chart and these are the three that the majority of the estimated 37,000 fans in Death Valley came to see.  While I don’t expect Dabo Swinney to name the back up this week, I do think that after Saturday we know who is at the forefront and who has work to do.

That someone at the front of the pack is Nick Schuessler, who has a slight advantage over Tucker Israel and Israel has a slight advantage over Kelly Bryant.

KBSchuessler played for both the Orange and the White teams and definitely shined the brightest, going 11-17, for 201 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception, a pretty solid stat line. There was marked improvement in this spring game from what he looked like last fall and that’s understandable and even expected with Watson being sidelined  and providing Schuessler more first team reps.

As a passer quarterback Tucker Israel (8-16 for 110 yards) has a slight lead on Kelly Bryant (10-16 for 95 yards with 2 touchdowns as well as rushing 7 times for 29 yards), but  Bryant has a clear advantage athletically.

Israel looked more comfortable as a passer the entire day, while Bryant looked very uncomfortable until the end of the first half when he led a touchdown drive, before settling in during the second half.

Nick Schuessler has the edge heading into summer.

There were no surprises with the rest of the skill players on offense.  Mike Williams had a very good game with (5 catches, 105 yards and 2 TD’s) and Artavis Scott also had a solid day (4 catches, 75 yards).  The running back’s for Orange (Tyshon Dye- 2 catches for 24 yards and Zac Brooks- 2 catches for 18 yards) were utilized in the passing game and this is a good sign.  Maybe it is just me but I felt like the running backs were underutilized as part of the passing game this past season.TI

C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman both had standout days on the ground, combining to rush 13 times for 171 yards and 3 touchdowns.  While he didn’t have an outstanding statistical day (10 rushes for 18 yards) it was good to see Brooks back out on the field.  He was the number one guy last fall before getting hurt and I’ll be interested to see how he bounces back this fall with a log jam at the running back position.

Those that are more defensively inclined were watching the defensive front to determine the size of the drop off after losing so much talent and depth from the 2014 edition.

With the loss in personnel across the defensive front, the secondary will be the torch carrier early and showed some good and some bad.  The secondary combined only allowed an average of just over 8 yards per pass attempt, 50 total attempts and 414 combined yards.

After summer workouts and fall practice and two games against Wofford and Appalachian State I expect the defense to be more comfortable with their roles.

If you think of the season in phases, the Orange and White game equates to the end of phase three (spring practice), and is preceded by national signing day (phase one) and pre-spring workouts and conditioning (phase two).  Now comes phase four which is summer workouts – the longest dry spell for the fans before the season begins.

Football season is close enough to start counting down if you haven’t already begun.  When that happens I expect the offense to set school records and a defense that, while not as deep and talented as the 2014 group, to be solid and compliment the offense.

It’s almost back Tiger fans, it is almost back!

Spring Game Primer: What and Who To Look For

Courtesy Anderson Independent-Mail

OgundekoEditor’s Note: Chris Cox writes about Clemson recruiting on his site Tiger Talk.  You can follow Chris on Twitter at @TigerTalk_CU

This Saturday +30K orange clad Clemson faithful will make there way over to Death Valley just to catch a glimpse of an unfinished product. The Clemson program is in rarifired territory after finishing off their 4th consecutive +10 win season, ending the streak against South Carolina in convincing fashion, and a drubbing of Oklahoma in the bowl game. On top of the on-field success, Dabo and company just signed what is believed to be their most talented recruiting class ever. Over a dozen members of that scintillating class are on campus now, and will be on display for all to see this weekend. And while sophomore sensation Deshaun Watson won’t be suiting up, there is still plenty for Clemson fans to keep an eye on.

Here’s what to look for on Saturday:

5 Positions to Watch

Defensive End
Departures: Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, Tavares Barnes
Returners: Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Ebenezer Ogundeko, Richard Yeargin, Martin Aiken, Dane Rogers
Recruits: Albert Huggins*, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, LaSamuel Davis
Stats to Replace: 73 Tackles, 33.5 TFL, 17 Sacks, 3 FF
Snapshot: Opposing quarterbacks will breath a little easier now that Vic Beasley is playing on Sunday’s instead of suiting up for the Tigers. Just by looking at the numbers alone it’s easy to see that Marion Hobby has plenty of work to do between now and August. Shaq Lawson brings plenty of experience and Kevin Dodd appears to have turned the corner after patiently waiting his turn. There is no experience behind the two starters, which means Clemson fans will have to accept the fact that production will likely drop off. The only question will be how much.

Defensive Tackle
Departures: Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams, Josh Watson
Returners: DJ Reader, Carlos Watkins, Scott Pagano, Jabril Robinson
Recruits: Sterling Johnson*, Christian Wilkins, Gage Cervenka
Stats to Replace: 91 Tackles, 21.5 TFL, 6 Sacks, 2 FF
Snapshot: Gone is the heart and soul of the defensive line in Grady Jarrett. His motor and ability to slip around blocks will be tough to replace, but Brent Venables is hoping his trio of talented returners can fill that void. Dabo was quoted saying that DJ Reader has been virtually unblockable towards the end of the Spring, and that is great news for the Tigers. More help is on the way and many expect 5-star Christian Wilkins to provide an immediate impact once he arrives this Summer.

Offensive Tackle
Departures: Kalon Davis, Reid Webster (Backup RT)
Returners: Isaiah Battle, Joe Gore, Maverick Morris
Recruits: Mitch Hyatt*, Jake Fruhmorgen*
Stats to Replace: 1749 Snaps
Snapshot: Kalon Davis was thurst into the right tackle role after Joe Gore went down with a stomach issue in the middle of the season. Gore and Battle are both back, but neither has truly taken ownership of their positions on the ends of the line. Early enrollees Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen have arrived and both appear to be ready to contribute right away. The two veteran tackles better not get too complacent in their starting roles, because the two young guns are closing in fast.

Running Back
Departures: DJ Howard
Returners: Wayne Gallman, Tyshon Dye, Zac Brooks, Adam Choice, CJ Davidson, CJ Fuller
Recruits: Ray Ray McCloud (Likely at WR)
Stats to Replace: 50 Att, 195 Yards, 3 TD
Snapshot: Six backs, one football. That’s the blessing and the curse that Jeff Scott and Tony Elliot must figure out. Gallman seems to have a firm grasp on the No.1 spot, but behind him it’s anyone’s game. Dye, Brooks, Davidson, and Fuller all bring their own unique tools to the table. With Choice recovering from a torn ACL, his contributions this Fall may be few and far between although he was probably Clemson’s best back before his injury last season. CJ Fuller looks to be more than an afterthought and is thought to be a real factor for playing time this coming season. If the offensive line can open up some holes, this backfield has a chance to be special. Everyone will get their carries on Saturday, but come September 5th it’ll be a much different story.

Linebacker
Departures: Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward
Returners: Ben Boulware, BJ Goodson, Dorian O’Daniel, Kendall Joseph, TJ Burrell
Recruits: Chad Smith*, Jalen Williams*
Stats to Replace:133 Tackles, 20.5 TFL, 6 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 INT
Snapshot: Clemson fans finally got to see the two 5-star linebackers roam the field together this past Fall, and it was quite the treat. Anthony embraced his role as the quarterback of the defense, and his vocal leadership will be extremely hard to replace. Insert BJ Goodson, who has been Anthony’s understudy for a couple years now, and you have to hope you’ll see him play with the same passion. Opposite of Goodson will be local product Ben Boulware and a talented sophomore in Dorian O’Daniel. Those two showed flashes of greatness last year, and I expect they will be pedal to the metal when they get their opportunity as starters. Also, make sure to keep an eye on RS Freshmen Korie Rogers and Kendall Joseph.

*Denotes early enrollee

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5 Players to Watch

Mitch Hyatt-OT
The 5-star freshman is on campus and is rumored to be making a push for immediate playing time. Both he and fellow early enrollee Jake Fruhmorgen (RT) will likely avoid redshirt seasons, which is uncommon for offensive linemen. Isaiah Battle hasn’t lived up to his billing and you can bet the staff will use Hyatt to light a fire under him. I’m anxious to see how he looks against the power rusher in Shaq Lawson and the speed rusher in Ebenezer Ogundeko. Hyatt will likely need to add 5-10 pounds this Summer, but the fundamentals are there for him to be a superstar in the trenches at Clemson.

Cordrea Tankersley-CB
The time is now for Tankersley, a Junior out of Beech Island, SC. At 6-1 200lbs, Tankersley gives you some nice size in the secondary. He only played sparingly last season (12 tackles), mainly in part due to the excellent play of Peters and Alexander. With Alexander back, for what is likely his final season in a Clemson uniform, you can bet that Tankersley will see a lot of footballs thrown his way. If he can hold his own Saturday against the likes of Mike Williams and Artavis Scott then you have got to feel really good about this secondary. There is virtually no experience behind Tankersley on the depth chart, so his play will be a key factor for this defense’s overall success.

Tyshon Dye-RB
Various injuries have sidelined the heralded running back out of Elberton, GA for his first two seasons in Clemson. Dye is finally back on track and has dropped weight to get down around 210-215lbs, which is his desired playing weight. We caught a glimpse of his abilities against Georgia State, a game in which he went over 100 yards. Personally, I’ve been excited about his kid since he stepped on campus and I firmly believe he is the most talented back on the roster right now. The backfield is crowded, but I expect Dye to vault himself into the starter conversation as the season progresses. This Saturday I’ll be looking to see how he cuts and hopefully we’ll get a glance at his speed in open field. Also, at his new weight Dye claims he can be in the 4.4-4.5 speed range, which is scary if true.

Nick Schuessler-QB
Many eyes will likely be on the two freshmen quaterbacks Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel. The coaches have had nothing, but positives to say about Schuessler so far this Spring, but we’ve heard this story before in the Spring so I will take it with a grain of salt. His teammates have been just as adamant about his performance this Spring as well, stating he has really taken advantage of his opportunity to prove he’s a worthy No.2. We haven’t seen much of Schuessler so Saturday will be our first chance to see if he’s capable of handling the tempo and distributing the rock to the plethora of playmakers around him. I know you can’t read too much into these games, but this team desparately needs to have a reliable option behind #4 given his inclination to injuries. This is Schuessler’s chance to show Tiger fans what he’s capable of and I hope to see him take full advantage of this opportunity.

Ebenezer Ogundeko-DE
One of the more intriguing players to watch is Ebo. I thought he would have played more snaps last season, but for whatever reason he stayed on the sidelines for the better part of the year. The RS Sophomore out of the Empire State is believed to be the No.3 defensive end as we exit the Spring. He brings the “Freak” factor to the edge with his combination of size and speed. Not saying he is going to be the next Vic Beasley, but he has the potential to play in a similar fashion as Vic did. The offensive line won’t present Ebo with any All-American counterparts to face so I would like to see him show out on Saturday. One of the keys to Clemson’s top ranked defense last year was their ability to bring in quality talent off the bench when the starters took a breather. I’m hoping that Ebo and whoever snags the No.4 spot can provide quality depth this Fall.
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Now that you’ve processed all that, just a reminder that Spring Games are nothing but a glorified scrimmage that is open to the public. The best thing that can come out of Saturday is that the Tigers remain healthy headed in to the summer.

In a couple months, another injection of elite talent will arrive on campus that will be sure to shake some things up in the depth chart. Players like Deon Cain, Ray Ray McCloud, Christian Wilkins, & Mark Fields are all candidates to crack the 2-deep once they arrive. All in all, I hope to see a large fan contingent in Death Valley and I have a feeling we’ll break the 33K attendance mark set last season. Football’s back! Well, kinda.

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