2013 Clemson Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Clemson Tiger Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: QB Tajh Boyd put off the NFL for another college season. Coordinator Chad Morris, the architect of the up-tempo, no-huddle attack, passed on offers to become a head coach. Life is good for the Clemson offense, though there are holes that still need to be filled before the opener with Georgia. The Tigers ranked in the top 10 nationally in total and scoring offense in 2012, averaging 512 yards and 41 points, respectively. However, three key members of Boyd's supporting cast, RB Andre Ellington, WR DeAndre Hopkins and C Dalton Freeman, are now working toward NFL careers. In order to remain one of the country's most potent and feared offenses, it's incumbent upon the next generation of skill position players to step up. Senior Roderick McDowell is slated to take over at running back, earning a starting gig for the first time in his career. And budding receivers Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant need to absorb some heat from superstar Sammy Watkins, who's aiming to recapture his Freshman All-American form of 2011.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Tajh Boyd
Passing: Tajh Boyd
287-427, 3,896 yds, 36 TDs, 13 INTs
Rushing: Tajh Boyd
186 carries, 514 yds, 10 TDs
Receiving: Sammy Watkins
57 catches, 708 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore C Ryan Norton
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Charone Peake
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Sammy Watkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Boyd, 2) Watkins, 3) Senior LT Brandon Thomas
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, explosiveness, balance, ball security, third-down conversions, red-zone conversions
Weakness of the offense: running back, proven receivers, pass protection
On Jan. 8, Tajh Boyd announced he'd be returning for his fifth and final season. Death Valley has been thankful ever since. One more season with No. 10 means that Clemson will boast the ACC's best quarterback and a bona fide Heisman contender. Boyd flourished in his second season in Chad Morris' up-tempo, no-huddle attack, completing 287-of-487 passes for 3,896 yards, 36 touchdowns and 13 picks. The 6-1, 225-pound reigning ACC Player of the Year also finished second on the team with 514 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground. Boyd has a perfect grasp of the offense, throws darts in all directions and is fearless outside the pocket. How well he'll translate to the next level will be up to NFL scouts. For now, however, he's easily one of the most dangerous weapons from behind center in the game.
Junior Cole Stoudt has secured his position as the backup quarterback, a role he held last year. The 6-5, 205-pound son of former Pittsburgh Steelers QB Cliff Stoudt played well enough to remain ahead of 6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman Chad Kelly, Jim Kelly's nephew, who wound up tearing his ACL at the end of the spring game. Stoudt has come off the bench in 14 career games, going 39-of-60 for 327 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.
Watch Out For … improved footwork from Boyd. The senior has reached a stage in his maturation in which he's now tinkering with the less visible areas of his game, such as his feet. Boyd spent his spring break in California with quarterback whisperer George Whitfield in an attempt to sharpen his footwork in the pocket.
Strength: A Heisman-caliber signal-caller. In Boyd, Clemson boasts one of the premier hurlers in the country in 2013. He'll do it with his arm, he'll do it with his legs and now he's a top-notch leader as well. The senior has not only seen and done it all over the past two seasons, but he also has Morris' system down to an exact science. Leading the Tigers from behind to beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl could prove to be a launching point in Boyd's career.
Weakness: Boyd … against South Carolina. There's not a lot to dislike about Boyd's game unless the rival Gamecocks are on the other sideline. He's yet to beat South Carolina, which has stifled the potent Clemson offense. In fact, in three games against the ‘Cocks, the usually accurate Boyd has only gone 32-of-71 for 339 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Outlook: Boyd has already broken 39 school records, and whatever he hasn't smashed could be his later in the year. He's an elite all-around quarterback who is beginning to get plenty of well-deserved attention from NFL GMs and scouts. The numbers will once again be gaudy. The ultimate barometer, though, of a player of Boyd's caliber will come down to how well he performs against Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina.
Unit Rating: 9.5
Having waited patiently, senior Roderick McDowell is finally getting an opportunity for a starring role out of the backfield. The Tigers need to fill the coiffures now that Andre Ellington has exhausted his eligibility, and McDowell is next in line. A quick and shifty 5-9, 195-pounder, he has yet to start a game in college, coming off the bench last year to rush for 450 yards and five scores on 83 carries. McDowell plays bigger than his size and should be more of a factor as a receiver this year.
Since it's unlikely any one Tiger will be a traditional workhorse this fall, 5-11, 195-pound backup D.J. Howard can expect to get his share of touches as well. He's the most physical and assertive of the backs, lowering his shoulders and driving his legs for more yards. Part of the reason for last year's drop in output to 35 carries for 138 yards and two scores were nagging injuries.
Four-star recruit Zac Brooks lettered in his first year on campus, running for 119 yards on 26 carries. The 6-1, 185-pounder was a little overwhelmed and undersized in 2012, but looked in the spring as if he was ready to contribute on a more regular basis.
Watch Out For … the Peach State imports. The Tigers signed a couple of four-star recruits from the state of Georgia, Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman, both of whom are preparing to play right away. The opportunity will be there for the kid who digests the playbook and learns to do the little things well, like pick the right holes and pick up blitzes.
Strength: Yards after contact. McDowell and Howard are both adept at bouncing off tacklers and surging ahead for additional real estate. The fact that McDowell, the projected starter, averaged 5.4 yards per carry was testament to his shiftiness, but also his ability to only go down after being wrapped up by a defender.
Weakness: A proven feature back. It'll take a surprise for McDowell not to be in the starting lineup when Clemson squares off with Georgia in Week 1. And he has never started a game up to this point of his career. The Tigers are thin in the backfield, which might entice the staff to unleash QB Tajh Boyd on a few more running plays this fall.
Outlook: Clemson is still shooting for 200 yards on the ground per game, but it'll require more of a collaborative effort than in recent years. While McDowell has earned the right to start, it's doubtful he'll carry the ball 20 times week-in and week-out. Instead, Howard, Brooks and maybe even one of the newcomers will get a chance to impress the staff and gradually expand their role in an evolving backfield.
Unit Rating: 7
Yeah, Sammy Watkins suffered through a sophomore slump, the result of injuries, a suspension and generally being overshadowed by teammate DeAndre Hopkins. No, Watkins hasn't lost anything from his monster rookie debut in 2011. The 6-1, 205-pound speedster is every bit as lethal, despite dipping to 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. He's incendiary from the outside, quickly getting behind defensive backs, and turning short slants into long gains. And he has elite ball skills to go along with long arms and huge hands. This is Year 3 for Watkins, meaning it could be his last before turning pro. If he refocuses and keeps his eyes on the prize, being chosen in the opening round of next April's NFL Draft could be his reward.
Is this the year that junior Charone Peake starts emerging into a steadier receiver? He took a step forward last year by starting two games and catching 25 balls for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He has all of the natural physical tools needed to bloom, a long 6-3, 200-pounder with the blazing speed and the fluid stride to get behind defensive backs.
The third starting wide receiver this season will be 5-11, 190-pound junior Adam Humphries. A little steadier and a lot less spectacular than his surroundings, he's started five games over the last two seasons, catching 41 balls for 280 yards and a score last year. He's the Tiger, with the sound ball skills, that the quarterback looks for when a first down is needed.
Brandon Ford has graduated. Junior Sam Cooper was lost in the spring to an ACL injury. Clemson is being forced to dig a little deeper at tight end. For now, the job belongs to 6-4, 210-pound sophomore Stanton Seckinger, a converted wide receiver. He has sticky hands, catching four passes for 35 yards and a score as a spot player in eight games a year ago. It'll also be worth keeping a very close watch on 6-6, 235-pound true freshman Jordan Leggett, a shooting star at tight end. He has a higher ceiling than Seckinger, with the size and the wheels to work his way into a starting gig before too long.
Clemson's best weapon off the bench is going to be 6-5, 200-pound junior Martavis Bryant, Watkins' backup at wide receiver. Bryant has had some off-field issues, and consistency has eluded him. However, he's also a potentially lethal long-ball threat who can glide effortlessly through the secondary. Although he's caught just 19 balls in two years, they've gone for 526 yards and six touchdowns.
Watch Out For … how well Watkins adapts to playing boundary receiver. He's moving to the position played—and flourished at—a year ago. The thinking is rather simple; Watkins at boundary is going to give him more chances to operate in open waters. And that'll mean more opportunities to turn quick-hitters into explosions through the opposing defense.
Strength: Explosive playmakers. Even now that Hopkins is a Houston Texan, Clemson is dripping with athleticism and impressive measurables. Led by Watkins, they're very fast, agile and capable of breaking the defense's back with the long ball. The Tigers have recruited this position extremely well in recent years, allowing the next wave of blue-chippers to step up and deliver on Saturdays.
Weakness: Consistency. Hopkins was a complete player who looked to dominate just about every snap of 2012. Does Clemson have such a player on the roster in 2013? Watkins certainly has the potential, but now he has to go out and prove it. And all of those quality recruits from 2011 and 2012 will have to show that they can handle a dramatically expanded role in the offense.
Outlook: It's a huge year for Watkins who should go out and deliver the kind of salary run season that draws attention from All-American voters and NFL scouts. If he doesn't flourish as the primary target of Tajh Boyd in the passing game, it'll be shock. The key for the Tigers will be the performances of the young complements. For the offense to really click up to its full potential, Peake, Bryant and the tight ends will have to consistently bring it on a week-to-week basis. Anything less is going to visit too much attention to Watkins at boundary.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The shift of 6-3, 305-pound Brandon Thomas from guard to left tackle prior to the start of the season was a successful one. How much so? He seamlessly elevated to the All-ACC First Team, helping anchor the left side of the line. Now a senior entering his third year as a starter, he'll be asked to take on even more of a leadership role, especially since linchpin C Dalton Freeman has used up his eligibility. Thomas has great footwork for a big man, allowing him to quickly slide in order to seal off the edge. Although scouts project him as a guard on Sundays, he'll continue to protect Tajh Boyd's blindside at Clemson.
Over at right tackle will be 6-6, 310-pound Gifford Timothy, a returning starter from a year ago. The junior delivered a dozen knockdowns in 2012 and was generally steady at the point of attack, but he's not the most athletic or nimble member of the line. He's probably better suited to play guard, but the Tigers don't have the luxury of moving him at this time.
The anchor on the interior at this time is senior RG Tyler Shatley. The versatile 6-3, 295-pounder, who arrived as a fullback before moving to the D-line, started every game along the O-line a year ago. He's one of the strongest and the smartest members of the team, ringing up 26 knockdowns en route to being named a Strength & Conditioning All-American. Shatley will be even more effective as he improves his flexibility and footwork.
The staff has yet to decide on its starter at left guard, with a battle being waged between juniors David Beasley and Kalon Davis. Both players are big and physical, Beasley at 6-4 and 315 pounds and Davis at 6-5, 330-pound, but conditioning has been an ongoing concern. What does it say about Beasley that he started a dozen games a year ago, yet hasn't been to pull away from Davis, a player who has started just a single game over the last two seasons? This competition could go right up until the opener.
The toughest job along the O-line belongs to 6-3, 270-pound sophomore Ryan Norton, the likely heir apparent to rock-solid All-American C Dalton Freeman. The promising news is that Norton was the busiest of the backups last year, playing on 277 snaps. However, he needs to add weight, and he'll be facing a heavy responsibility as a first-time starter.
Clemson has an interesting mix of reserves at tackle, each of whom is looking to practice his way to more snaps in the fall. Sophomores Eric Mac Lain and Isaiah Battle are duking it out on the left side. Mac Lain is a 6-4, 260-pound former tight end who jumped out to a lead at the end of spring. However, the 6-6, 280-pound Battle has more upside potential, as long as he can maintain his focus and work ethic. At right tackle, 6-5, 275-pound sophomore Joe Gore continues to make his transition from defensive end, appearing in five games as a rookie.
Watch Out For … Thomas, Clemson's best offensive lineman, to strongly be considered for a switch to guard. No. 63 is going to excel wherever the staff puts him, but the Tigers are going to do whatever is necessary to get the five best blockers on the field at the same time. If Battle or Mac Lain makes that possible by improving at left tackle, Thomas might get a glimpse of his future at the next level.
Strength: The tackles. The Tigers are a more talented team on the edge this season than on the interior, provided Thomas stays put. The program returns two starters, and boasts three other lettermen at the position. Clemson is deep on the flanks, which could give the staff options this season.
Weakness: Keeping the pocket clean. Clemson has struggled in pass protection over the past two seasons, ranking 85th nationally in sacks allowed in both years. The program could be especially vulnerable between the tackles in 2013, as a new center gets broken in and the situation at left guard remains unsettled.
Outlook: The Tigers have the bodies, but will the results follow? Yeah, four starters are back, but Freeman leaves a gaping hole at the pivot. And it's not as if the 2012 ensemble flourished in all phases. Thomas is a fixture, a versatile blocker who'll play on Sundays. It's the rest of the unit, though, that has to improve at protecting the pocket and clearing a path for the backs.
Unit Rating: 7
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