2009 Clemson Preview - Offense
Clemson QB Willy Korn
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Clemson Tigers Offense
Preview 2009 - Offense
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2009 Clemson Offense
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need to know: The Tigers are attempting to
rebound on offense after last season’s
unmitigated disaster. Despite harboring some of
the better players in school history at
quarterback, running back, and wide receiver,
Clemson was 87th nationally in total offense.
It’ll look to build the attack from the ground
up with a 29-year old first-time offensive
coordinator, a rookie quarterback, and an
offensive line that has a lot of proving to do.
The silver linings come in the form of a pair of
blazing seniors, RB C.J. Spiller and WR Jacoby
Ford. The importance of Spiller’s decision to
return for one more year, rather than jet to the
NFL, cannot be overstated. If he wasn’t around
to keep opposing defenses honest, the Tiger
for federal aid.
of the offense:
Senior RB C.J. Spiller
Passing: Willy Korn
26-38, 216 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: JC.J. Spiller
116 carries, 629 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Jacoby Ford
55 catches, 710 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step
up and become a star:
Redshirt freshman QB Kyle Parker or sophomore Willy Korn
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore RB Jamie Harper
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Spiller, 2) Senior LG Thomas Austin, 3) Senior WR
Strength of the offense:
Skill position speed, big-play ability
of the offense:
Youth at quarterback, settling for field goals, converting on
third down, blocking
Although the Tigers got closer to making a decision about Cullen
Harper’s successor, don’t expect a decision to be made until
August. Yeah, 6-0, 210-pound redshirt freshman
momentum, but 6-2, 220-pound
firmly in the hunt. Also an outfielder on the baseball team,
Parker has been turning heads from the moment he arrived from
Jacksonville, Fla. Playing as if he’s channeling a young Brett
Favre, he has a rifle for an arm, a great feel for the pocket,
and is a gamer. While obviously young and prone to forcing
passes, he’s mature beyond his years and has a commanding
presence in the huddle. If there’s a favorite, he’s it.
Korn is getting a challenge that he never saw coming. Wasn’t he
the hot-shot recruit from the 2007 class, who was going to make
Harper break a sweat? He still may be the heir-apparent at
quarterback, but he’s being pushed harder than anyone expected.
The best athlete of the quarterbacks, he can escape trouble and
make plays with his feet on designed runs. And although he
doesn’t have the Parker’s zip, he’s accurate with his passes and
has a quick release. Before suffering a shoulder injury, he
played in six games and started one in 2008, going 26-of-38 for
216 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Top Reserves: The lone certainty in the pecking order is
that 6-1, 205-pound junior
the No. 3 guy for a second straight year. A terrific all-around
athlete and the veteran of this group, he won’t cower at the
prospect of being thrust into the huddle in an emergency
Watch Out For ... Act II
of one of the nation’s more intriguing quarterback battles of
the summer. Korn and Parker went toe-to-toe in the spring,
bringing out the best in each other. You can bank on more of the
same, as the two inch closer to getting the ball for the Sept. 5
opener with Middle Tennessee State.
Athleticism. While none of them will conjure up memories of
Woody Dantzler, all three of the Tiger quarterbacks have great
feet and move fluidly outside the pocket. Whether it’s Korn or
Parker, the offense needn’t worry about having a sitting target
behind center. Both will escape the rush and hurt defenses with
Weakness: Inexperience. It’s never fun going
into a season without a sure-fire starter at quarterback,
especially both competitors are underclassmen and have one
combined start. The growing pains will be built in, regardless
of who gets the nod.
The future at quarterback looks bright for Clemson, but how
about the present? While Parker and Korn shined at times in
April, that’s hardly an adequate dress rehearsal for what’s
about to come. Ideally, one of the kids takes off in August,
ending the debate over who should start. The last thing the
Tigers need is a controversy that bleeds into the start of the
Now that James Davis has graduated, 5-11, 195-pound senior
C.J. Spiller finally
has the feature role all to himself. After going back and forth
on whether to turn pro early, he decided to return and pursue
some of his individual, personal, and team goals. The NFL Draft
will be there next April, as will a fat first-day signing bonus.
The author of 12 school records, including all-purpose yards,
he’s one of the most versatile game-breakers in the country.
Despite starting just seven games in three years, he’s rushed
for 2,335 yards, caught 87 passes, and scored 30 touchdowns,
including seven of at least 80 yards. With his speed and
acceleration, you can forget about catching him once he gets
With a terrific offseason, 6-2, 255-pound
has vaulted into the lead spot at the hybrid position that
incorporates pieces of fullback, H-back, and tight end. A
physical option in short yardage, he also has 46 career grabs
for 480 yards and a touchdown, making him an option in the
passing game as well. If he can stay healthy, an annual question
mark, he’ll carve out a niche on this offense.
Projected Top Reserves: Waiting in the wings once
Spiller retires is 5-11, 235-pound sophomore
Jamie Harper, who
has trimmed down in the offseason and looks quicker than ever.
Despite being the biggest and most powerful of the backs, he
also has great feet, and will blow past defenders who
underestimate his speed. His emergence will keep Spiller from
to carry it 25 times a game, while allowing him to
split out wide, as he’s done in the past.
If Harper is
the power runner of the future, 5-10, 180-pound redshirt
is the big-play back of the future, a Spiller in-the-making.
A little undersized to be a feature back, he makes a great
third-down option, with the soft hands, elusiveness, and burst
of speed to exploit defenses for big chunks of real estate.
For ... Harper to somewhat offset the departure
of Davis. Hey, Spiller will get more touches than ever before,
but no one wants him to carry the ball 300 times this fall.
After carrying 34 times for 133 yards and a score, Harper is an
ideal candidate to increase his workload and soften up gassed
Thunder and lightning. Davis may be a Cleveland Brown,
but that doesn’t mean the Tigers have lost the ability to test
defenses with both world-class speed and bruising power. With
Spiller providing the flash and Harper the mash, the running
game remains in very capable hands.
Durability. As a group, the Tigers have been somewhat, and
now that Spiller is becoming an every-down guy, it’s natural to
wonder how he’ll handle doing more of the heavy lifting. Clemson
has become accustomed to having more than one stud at its
disposal, but the safety net will be a little thinner in 2009.
What is Spiller capable of doing when he doesn’t have to share
touches? We’re about to find about. Fresh and poised to make his
decision to return look good, there’s no limit to what he’s
capable of achieving this fall. Harper and Ellington will get
weaved into the picture before commanding much bigger roles in
The passing game will be trying to overcome a one-two punch. Not
only will the new quarterback be a novice at this level, but two
of last year’s best receivers have graduated. Carrying the torch
will be 5-10, 195-pound senior
Jacoby Ford, a blur
and the receiving corps’ version of C.J. Spiller. Also a star on
the track team, he’s added weight since arriving and improved
his fundamentals, scoring six career touchdowns of at least 50
yards. He really got off the tarmac as a junior, catching a
career-high 55 passes for 710 yards and four touchdowns.
The Tigers are banking on 6-5, 210-pound junior
Xavier Dye to move
into the lineup at “X” receiver and start taking his game to the
next level. The protégé to Aaron Kelly in 2008, he started a
pair of games and played in all 13, but only managed six
receptions for 75 yards. More than just big, he can be a
physical receiver, out muscling defensive backs when the ball is
in the air.
In three-wide sets, 6-2, 190-pound junior
be lining up at “Z” receiver. A former walk-on and self-made
player, he’s carved out a niche on offense and special teams
that’s about to get larger. He actually caught three passes in
the opener, but nagging injuries cut into his playing time and
kept him from catching another pass all year. As a blocker, he
has few peers among the receivers.
Returning at tight
end will be 6-5, 250-pound senior
Michael Palmer, who
has started 24 games over the last three seasons. A top
performer in the weight room and the film room, he’s close to a
complete tight end, showing soft hands as a receiver and
outstanding skills as a run blocker. While not the fastest tight
end in the ACC, he’s used good fundamentals and route running to
catch 30 career passes for 318 yards and four scores.
Projected Top Reserves: Everyone is being asked to do
a little more on a second unit that’s littered with
underclassmen. One of those kids is sophomore
Brandon Clear, a
letterwinner despite playing in just three games last season.
While still undeveloped, at 6-5 and 205 pounds, with a 39-inch
vertical leap, the coaching staff is willing to work through his
If Clear is the B team’s version of Dye,
then 5-11, 185-pound sophomore
Ford’s unproven twin. While not quite as fast, he does have
explosive tendencies, and made strides in the offseason with his
ball skills. He got a taste of action as a true freshman,
playing in eight games and making five grabs for 37 yards.
Watch Out For ... the emergence of a No. 2
receiver. Ford is the clear-cut No. 1, but who is the next best
option? While it should be Dye, if he’s unable to come through,
this group, and the passing attack as a whole, is going to have
Strength: Ford. He brings star
quality to an ensemble that’s sorely lacking in it. When a
player of his explosiveness is on the field, it attracts
resources from opposing defenses and makes the other receivers
and tight ends more effective.
Proven wideouts. With a proven complement to Ford, things
wouldn’t appear so uncertain at this unit. However, such a
player is not on the roster. A lot is being asked of Dye and
Ashe, hardly sure-things, who combined to catch just nine balls
Outlook: The losses of Kelly and Tyler
Grisham have left the Tigers in rebuilding mode at receiver.
Ford and Palmer provide a nice foundation at wide receiver and
tight end, respectively, but without help from the others, it’ll
be an ordinary group that can be slowed down by doubling the
An obvious weakness a year ago, Clemson enters 2009 season
hoping that the offensive line will be a strength. Anchoring the
unit will be 6-3, 315-pound senior
Thomas Austin, who’s
moving to left guard after earning All-ACC honors as a part-time
center. The toughest drive blocker of the unit, he’s led the
team in knockdowns the last two seasons and has proven he can
play multiple positions equally well. A future in the NFL
The emergence of 6-3, 310-pound sophomore
of the real positives developments in an otherwise mixed review.
After coming off the bench in the opener, he went on to start
the next 12 games, finishing second on the team in knockdowns
and earning Freshman All-America honors. After last season’s
baptism under fire, he should be on more solid footing this
Helping complete the interior of the line will be
McClain, the projected starter at right guard. One of the
pillars of the future for this group, he played in all 13 games
as a first-year Tiger, he played 149 snaps to earn a letter and
accelerate the learning process. At a leaner 6-5 and 305 pounds,
he’s moving quicker than a year ago, yet still possesses the
physical qualities that helped make him such a cherished
The Tigers believe they have a rising star in
6-6, 320-pound junior
Chris Hairston, who’s back for his second season as the
starter at left tackle. A terrific athlete, with the right frame
for the position, he’s well-suited to protect the backside of
either Kyle Parker or Willy Korn. A late bloomer coming out of
high school, he’s headed toward a pro career if he keeps
developing over the next two years.
The hot spot of the
line is at right tackle, where the staff has yet to commit to a
starter. In some capacity, 6-5, 300-pound sophomore
be in the mix. In his first season of eligibility, he played
better than expected, starting 10 games and finishing third on
the team in blocking grade. If he can achieve a higher level of
consistency, the job is there for the taking.
Projected Top Reserves: Running neck-and-neck with
Walker at right tackle is 6-6, 310-pound senior
Cory Lambert, one of
the most versatile linemen to ever play in Death Valley. A year
ago, he achieved a school rarity, starting games at left tackle,
right tackle, and left guard in the same season. A better run
blocker than pass protector, he has a tendency to get exposed by
the better inside rushers.
The old man of the group is
6-2, 300-pound senior
Barry Humphries, a veteran who has played a lot of snaps and
can fill in at a number of different interior slots.
Unfortunately, he’s trying to come back from a rough year
physically, missing most of 2008 with a pair of ACL injuries. A
powerful run blocker, he has a spot in the rotation, provided
health is not an obstacle.
Wilson Norris has
positioned himself as the successor to Austin at left guard.
At 6-4 and 310 pounds, he’s lighter than he was a year ago,
which has helped his footwork and lateral quickness. As a run
blocker, he has a high ceiling, showing the ability to latch on
to his man and drive him completely out of the play. The
upcoming season will be a test drive before he gets turned loose
Watch Out For ... incoming freshman
J.K. Jay. It takes a
special player to leave high school early and compete right
away. Jay is looking like that type of young man. Obviously, he
has work to do, but he showed enough natural ability to earn
serious consideration for that opening at right tackle.
Depth. It wasn’t the case last year, but Clemson now boasts a
decent amount of experience at every position. With veterans,
like Humphries, Lambert, and
providing depth, there’s a nice mix of youthful upside and
Weakness: Pass protection. As
a group, this unit does not pass protect especially well. And it
showed in last year’s results. The Tigers were 103rd
nationally in sacks allowed, when the quarterback was a nimble
senior, who knew his way around a pocket.
There’s no doubt the offensive line will be better, but just how
much better than last year’s debacle? Everyone is back and a
year older, which ought to count for something in the area of
progress. While Austin is a rock and Hairston is headed that
way, success depends on how far along the underclassmen have
come since 2008.