2009 Clemson Preview - Offense
Clemson QB Willy Korn
Clemson QB Willy Korn
Posted May 21, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Clemson Tigers Offense

Clemson Tigers

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Clemson Preview | 2009 Clemson Offense
- 2009 Clemson Defense | 2009 Clemson Depth Chart
- 2008 Clemson Preview | 2007 Clemson Preview | 2006 Clemson Preview 

What you 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 offense might   qualify for federal aid.

Returning Leaders
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

Star of the offense: Senior RB C.J. Spiller
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: Spiller
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Spiller, 2) Senior LG Thomas Austin, 3) Senior WR Jacoby Ford
Strength of the offense: Skill position speed, big-play ability
Weakness of the offense: Youth at quarterback, settling for field goals, converting on third down, blocking


Projected Starters: 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 Kyle Parker has the momentum, but 6-2, 220-pound Willy Korn remains 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.   

Projected Top Reserves: The lone certainty in the pecking order is that 6-1, 205-pound junior Michael Wade will be 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 situation.

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.
Strength: 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 their quickness. 
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.

Outlook: 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 season. 
: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starter: 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 into space.

With a terrific offseason, 6-2, 255-pound senior Rendrick Taylor 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 having 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 freshman Andre Ellington 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.  

Watch Out 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 defenses.
Strength: 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.  
Weakness: 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.   
Outlook: 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 2010.
Rating: 9.5


Projected Starters: 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 Terrance Ashe will 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 rough areas.

If Clear is the B team’s version of Dye, then 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Marquan Jones is 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 problems.
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.
Weakness: 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 in 2008.
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 best player.
: 6

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 awaits.

The emergence of 6-3, 310-pound sophomore Mason Cloy was one 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 fall.

Helping complete the interior of the line will be sophomore Antoine 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 recruit.

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 Landon Walker will 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.

Sophomore 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 in 2010.

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.
Strength: 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 Jamarcus Grant providing depth, there’s a nice mix of youthful upside and senior stability.
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.
Outlook: 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.
: 6.5