2012 Clemson Preview – Offense
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
Posted Apr 30, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Clemson Tiger Offense

Clemson Tigers

Preview 2012 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: Dabo Swinney's hands-down best move of 2011 was the hiring of coordinator Chad Morris, who deftly transformed the attack with an up-tempo, no-huddle system. Stale in previous years, Clemson was suddenly potent, averaging 33 points and 440 yards a game. Last season also marked the coming-out parties for WR Sammy Watkins and QB Tajh Boyd, who along with RB Andre Ellington and WR DeAndre Hopkins, helped transform the Tigers into the fastest offense in the ACC. With that first season under Morris in the rear view mirror, the coach expects his kids to be even more efficient and high-scoring this fall. Making life even more confusing for defenses will be the installation of some Pistol formations designed to ignite the team's power running game, and confuse the other guy's linebackers. Defenses aren't likely to slow down Clemson this fall. Its own offensive line, though, might. The Tigers will be injecting three unproven starters into the Dalton Freeman-led front wall, the single biggest concern entering the new year.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tajh Boyd
298-499, 3,828 yds, 33 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Andre Ellington
223 carries, 1,178 yds, 11 TDs
Receiving: Sammy Watkins
82 catches, 1,219 yds, 12 TDs

Star of the offense: Sophomore WR Sammy Watkins
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT Brandon Thomas
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LG Kalon Davis
Best pro prospect: Watkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Watkins, 2) Senior C Dalton Freeman, 3) Junior QB Tajh Boyd
Strength of the offense: Quarterbacks, playmakers at the skill positions, big plays, third-down offense
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, pass protection, turnovers, red zone scoring


The opening chapter of the Tajh Boyd era exceeded most expectations, even for one of the most coveted recruits of the 2009 class. The strong-armed 6-1, 225-pounder led the Tigers to an ACC championship, while setting numerous single-season school marks along the way. He proved to be good fit for Chad Morris' up-tempo, no-huddle offense, completing 298-of-499 passes for 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns and a dozen picks. The junior also showed off his quick feet outside the pocket by rushing for 218 yards and five more scores. Boyd has put in the time to improve his game, displaying a level of dedication that permeates throughout the offense. He's also in better shape than a year ago, and should benefit from a full season running Morris' system.

Caddying for Boyd for a second straight year will be 6-4, 200-pound sophomore Cole Stoudt , assuming he can shake off a turbulent spring, and fend off a growing number of competitors. He played some as the backup in 2011, going 12-of-21 for 115 yards in six mop-up appearances. His lead on 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman Morgan Roberts is not as wide as it was in March. Oh, and incoming rookie Chad Kelly , Jim Kelly's nephew, is the type of dual-threat who fits the system well. Stoudt is No. 2 for now, but has a tenuous hold on the job.

Watch Out For … the staff to continue to push Boyd to higher ground. He was very good in his starting debut, but do not expect anyone, from the coaches to the fans, to become content with his performance. Morris, in particular, knows that there's another level for his junior once he improves his footwork, decision-making and reads.
Strength: Boyd's measurables. Yeah, there's room for improvement, but the junior showed in 2011 why he was a five-star prospect just a couple years earlier. He has the arm strength to reach his receivers in full stride, and can make defenders look silly once the pocket starts to break down. In an NFL Combine setting, No. 10 would wow the scouts in attendance.
Weakness: Consistency. Boyd is still a little raw in the passing game, no shocker since he's only been a starter for one year. Of last year's dozen picks, nine came in the final six games as the level of competition improved. At times, he'll force the issue even if a receiver isn't open, and must eliminate those times when he becomes unhinged.
Outlook: Boyd figures to be a fringe Heisman contender now that he has that first year as a starter behind him. Naturally, it'll help to be surrounded by so much skill position talent at running back and wide receiver. The Tigers, though, expect him to be sharper beyond just the inevitable gaudy numbers, honing his skills as a more polished quarterback. With Morris being tough on his hurler this offseason, it'll be interesting to see how he handles the increased critiquing.
Unit Rating: 8

Running Backs

Senior Andre Ellington could have left early for the 2012 NFL Draft, opting instead to return for one final year. It was a big win for the Clemson ground game. A big-play guy from the word go, he's averaged nearly six yards a carry for his career, peaking with 1,178 yards and 11 scores on 223 carries a year ago. A 5-10, 190-pound bolt of lightning out of the backfield, and can be very slippery in traffic. His stop and start moves in the open field are capable of making defenders look silly. Ellington is a quintessential homerun hitter, requiring little daylight to change a game's momentum.

Coming out of spring, Ellington's backup was 5-11, 195-pound sophomore D.J. Howard , who rushed for 230 yards and a score on 41 carries in 2011. More steady than spectacular, he's the kind of north-south runner who'll earn his reps by picking up some of the dirty yards between the tackles.

The most gifted of the backups—by far—is 5-10, 175-pound sophomore Mike Bellamy , the former four-star prospect who's had off-field distractions. He was suspended in December, while having his work-ethic questioned. When he's on the field, he gets to second gear in a hurry with game-changing track speed and elusiveness.

On those rare occasions that the Tigers employ a fullback, No. 84, 6-2, 245-pound junior Darrell Smith will be summoned from the sidelines.

Watch Out For … Bellamy's attitude. The staff would like their second-year gem to win the No. 2 job, but doing so will require him to chirp less and work more. No one doubts he has the necessary skill set to succeed, but the program is asking for a higher level of dedication, or else Howard will remain Ellington's primary backup.
Strength: Long ball hitters. In Ellington and Bellamy, Clemson boasts a pair of dynamic weapons on the ground. Both go from 0-60 in the minimum required time, hitting the hole as if they're escaping a burning building. These two gamebreakers are to the running game what Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins are to the passing attack.
Weakness: Durability. This is an issue mostly associated with Ellington who has had a difficult completing a full season as a member of the program. He's not very big or physical, and missed the spring game following ankle surgery. He'll be fine in the summer, but Clemson remains concerned about his ability to withstand the weekly punishment of being the feature back.
Outlook: There's no doubt that Ellington is one of the ACC's premier backs; Clemson is holding its breath that he can be that guy for all 12 regular season games. When he's on, he's the perfect complement to the high-flying passing game. Proven depth and short-yardage running could be a concern, especially if Bellamy shows any signs of regression.
Unit Rating: 8


As far as targets in the passing game go, Clemson believes it can be the ACC's version of USC this fall. No one is surprised that sophomore Sammy Watkins adjusted quickly to the college game. It was, however, a little shocking at how easily he dominated defensive backs at this level. He's the new mega-star of this program—if not the entire conference—displaying uncommon explosiveness and precision for such a young athlete. His precocious debut included 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns, and a spot on the all-league team as a receiver and kick returner. He has blinding speed. More important, though, he has near flawless ball skills, using his long arms and big mitts to pluck the ball out of the air.

Watkins' complement on the outside is 6-1, 200-pound junior DeAndre Hopkins , no slouch in his own right. In fact, he's already caught 124 passes in two seasons, setting career highs with 72 grabs for 978 yards and five scores last fall. A sure-handed receiver, he arguably runs the tree better than any of the Tigers wide receivers. Obviously not content to play second fiddle to anyone, Hopkins is coming off a dominant offseason that's seen him add considerable strength and muscle.

The third receiver in the three-man sets will be 6-2, 200-pound senior Jaron Brown , a three-time letterwinner with the program. While not the flashiest receiver on the roster, he is a steady and clutch performer, using his physicality to catch no fewer than 3 0 passes in each of the last two seasons.

The Tigers have a trio of talented sophomores, Martavis Bryant , Charone Peake , and Adam Humphries , bucking for more playing time in the fall. Bryant lacks consistency, but at 6-5 and 205 pounds, with good wheels, the staff is willing to be patient with him. Peake is a physical player who'll do his most damage on crossing routes. Humphries is a staff favorite, a blue-collar receiver who quietly pulled in 15 receptions as a true freshman.

Clemson's biggest hole is at tight end, where Dwayne Allen will be difficult to replace. Filling his shoes will be 6-4, 235-pound senior Brandon Ford, last year's backup. No seam-buster in the passing attack, he does have a good feel for the offense, and will rarely drop a ball in his catch radius.

Watch Out For … Hopkins to become more of a big-play guy. With Watkins demanding so much attention, it's going to open up the field a little more for Hopkins to get behind the secondary. Based on his performance in spring and in the weight room, he's obviously entering this season with a healthy chip on his shoulder.
Strength: Athleticism. It's been an unmistakable trait of this group for many years. The wide receivers easily pass the eye test, sporting great size and enough speed and quickness to make opposing defensive coordinators wince. Watkins and Hopkins are the obvious cover boys, but Bryant and Peake, too, have difference-making triangle numbers.
Weakness: Proven depth. Aside from Humphries, the backup wide receivers and tight ends are still unpolished at the finer points of pass-catching. If the likes of Bryant and Peake are going to match their physical ability with actual production, they have to start running better routes and cutting down on the drops.
Outlook: The Clemson corps of receivers travelled from good to great the moment Watkins broke into the starting lineup. He's one of the most dangerous receivers in America and the kind of magnet for attention that'll make everyone around him better. He and Hopkins will form a terrific one-two punch for QB Tajh Boyd to exploit. Whatever the Tigers get from Ford and the complimentary receivers will be a bonus.
Unit Rating: 9

Offensive Line

Welcome to the O-line, Clemson's biggest offensive concern heading into 2012. Three starters are gone from a year ago, leaving senior C Dalton Freeman as the undisputed leader of the front wall. He's been a rock in the middle of the line, starting the last 36 games, while consistently grading out among the best Tigers blockers. More finesse than physical, the 6-5, 285-pounder is the most fundamentally-sound of the team's linemen.

The Tigers' other returning starter is 6-3, 300-pound junior Brandon Thomas, who's in the process of making the move from guard to left tackle. Although his size and experience scream guard, he also has the agility and footwork to remain the best possible option to protect the quarterback's blindside this fall.

If, however, one of the former blue-chippers, true freshman Isaiah Battle or redshirt freshman Shaq Anthonyappears ready to handle left tackle, Thomas will be shifted back inside.

At least for the time being, 6-6, 315-pound sophomore Gifford Timothy has been penciled in at right tackle. He played sparingly a year ago, but has worked very hard to transform his body, and improve his technique in pass protection. He's the frontrunner to start the opener, but 6-6, 260-pound redshirt freshman Joe Gore might have the higher ceiling. The converted defensive end has better feet and agility, which he'll use to try and narrow the gap in August.

The most pleasant surprise up front has come from versatile 6-3, 295-pound Tyler Shatley . The junior, who arrived as a fullback before moving to the D-line, is now slated to start at right guard. He has the right characteristics, from a mean streak to immense raw power, to make this relocation one of the best decisions of the offseason.

The final piece of the starting lineup figures to be 6-5, 335-pound sophomore Kalon Davis , the biggest member of the O-line. He's put in the necessary time to get in shape and sharpen his technique, while still being able to muscle opponents off the ball. It's imperative that he maintains that same level of dedication throughout the offseason.

Watch Out For … the progress of the kids, especially at left tackle. Obviously, the staff wants to get its five best blockers on the field at the same time. While it would be risky, it would also be a boon to the unit if either Battle or Anthony plays well enough to bump Thomas back to his natural position, guard.
Strength: The interior. With Freeman at the pivot, and pile-driving Davis and Shatley at left guard and right guard, respectively, the Tigers should be effective in run blocking between the tackles. If for some reason Thomas winds up at his old position, even better.
Weakness: Sealing the edge. The Tigers justifiably have serious concern about their situation at tackle. A year after finishing 85th nationally in sacks allowed, Clemson's two-deep on the perimeter consists of a converted guard, a little-used sophomore and a spate of rookies attempting to get promoted.
Outlook: This is an area where Clemson has struggled off and on for a number years. And could once again this season. Freeman is a fixture, the kind of player a front wall can be built around. After the senior center, however, there is a spate of question marks. This is a very tough league to compete in with a marginal offensive line, but unless a handful of blockers exceed expectations, that's exactly what the Tigers will be in 2012.
Unit Rating: 6.5
- 2012 Clemson Preview | 2012 Clemson Offense
- 2012 Clemson Defense  | 2012 Clemson Depth Chart  
- Clemson Previews  2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006