2010 Clemson Preview – Offense
Clemson LT Chris Hairston
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Clemson Tiger Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: More than anything, Clemson strives to be balanced on offense, deftly mixing the run with the pass. Even in a post-C.J. Spiller world, the Tigers will still have plenty of success on the ground. Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper may not be No. 28, but they're both plenty talented and will be running behind Chris Hairston and one of the league's top lines. The bigger question mark will be in the passing game, where all eyes are on QB Kyle Parker, who's deciding between continuing his football career or signing a baseball contract to play for the Colorado Rockies. If he goes pro, the Tajh Boyd era begins at least one year earlier than anyone anticipated. A blue-chipper from a year ago, he has all of the physical gifts, but lacks experience. The quarterbacks might not get a ton of help from the wide receivers, though TE Dwayne Allen is about to enter the spotlight.
Star of the offense: Senior LT Chris Hairston
Passing: Kyle Parker
205-369, 2,526 yds, 20 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Andre Ellington
68 carries, 491 yds, 4 TDs
Receiving: Xavier Dye
14 catches, 236 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Xavier Dye
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Dwayne Allen
Best pro prospect: Hairston
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hairston, 2) Allen, 3) Sophomore RB Andre Ellington
Strength of the offense: Athletic quarterbacks, the backs, tight end, the offensive line
Weakness of the offense: Wide receivers, consistency in the passing game, third down conversions, converting in the red zone
Projected Starter: No one seems to mind that 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Kyle Parker is the most heralded two-sport star in school history...as long as football remains one of those pursuits. Also a gifted slugger for the Tiger baseball team and first round draft choice of the Colorado Rockies, there are legitimate concerns he could take up the sport on a full-time basis if the money is right. Time will tell, but for now, he's the program's best option under center, blending a cannon for an arm with excellent athleticism and feel for the pocket. Sure, he struggled at times with his reads and progressions, but also went 205-of-369 for 2,526 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 picks. Beyond the obvious physical gifts, he has certain special, intangible qualities inherent to all winning quarterbacks.
Projected Top Reserves: With the uncertainty swirling around Parker and the transfer of Willy Korn to Marshall, 6-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd is suddenly a very important player on offense. One of the nation's uber-recruits of 2009, he prepared in the spring as if his future would begin in September. Not only does he have the total package athletically, but he's also mature beyond his years and already a terrific leader. Obviously, there's still a lot to learn, which will come with reps, but the sky is the limit on his future.
Rounding out the depth chart is the versatile veteran, 6-2, 210-pound senior Michael Wade. While it won't be a good sign if he's taking snaps, he's a great player to have on the roster. More than just an emergency quarterback, he's also a special teams ace, made 10 tackles on special teams, and is a terrific scholar-athlete.
Watch Out For … Parker's decision on his future. The sophomore wasn't just drafted in June, he was taken No. 26 overall, which really complicates this situation. He's saying all the right things at this time, but for a slugger, the lure of playing at Coors Field, a hitter's park, won't be easy to dismiss without a lot of introspection.
Strength: Athletic ability. You've got to dig deep into the program's annals to find a better pair of athletes at the position than Parker and Boyd. Both possess rifles, move very well outside the pocket, and are physically capable of taking the pounding. As a bonus, they're also more mature and heady than you'd expect for a couple of underclassmen.
Weakness: Consistency. Along with youth and relative inexperience come too many unforced errors. Whether it's Parker or Boyd behind center, the Tiger quarterbacks, after finishing eighth in the league in passing efficiency, must do a better job of making reads, cutting down on mistakes, and connecting with a higher accuracy rate.
Outlook: If not for the 400-pound outfielder in the room, Clemson would be set at quarterback in the future—and the present. However, until Parker makes it official, the Tigers will be wondering if they'll enter 2010 with a freshman behind center. If it winds up being Parker and Boyd in the fall, the program could have the most dynamic duo at the position in the ACC.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: No, you certainly don't improve by losing a player of C.J. Spiller's caliber. However, Clemson is in a far better position than most programs would be of landing on its feet. The Tigers have two terrific and complimentary options, who were neck-and-neck coming out of spring. The playmaker of the duo will be 5-10, 180-pound sophomore Andre Ellington, a bolt of lightning out of the backfield, who gets to top gear in a hurry and is a long ball threat whenever he gets in the open field. Much tougher than his size might indicate, he debuted with 491 yards and four scores on only 68 carries, adding 11 receptions for 55 yards.
When the Tigers want to bludgeon opponents, especially between the tackles, they'll turn to junior Jamie Harper, a 6-0, 230-pound battering ram. As long as he stays in shape, he's surprisingly light on his feet, picking up a head of steam like a locomotive. Aiming to become a more complete back this season, he's concentrating on the little things, such as blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield. In two years, he's played a lot of football, getting 80 carries for 418 yards and four touchdowns off the bench in 2009.
One of the overlooked cogs in the prolific Tiger running game is 6-2, 255-pound junior Chad Diehl. Whether he lines up at fullback or tight end, his unselfish blocking and physical demeanor were big reasons why the backs enjoyed so much daylight last season.
Projected Top Reserves: Barring an injury, there won't be many carries to go around once Ellington and Harper are done getting their share. One player who'll try to change that dynamic is 5-9, 180-pound redshirt freshman Roderick McDowell . In many an Ellington clone, he's explosive in space and has the spatial awareness to see the holes that others don't. Multifaceted, he has excellent hands as a receiver and could be used some in "wildcat" packages. The staff will try to him into the mix, getting him a half-dozen or so touches a game.
Watch Out For … the running game to be every bit as potent as it was a year ago. Had Ellington and Harper not been replacing a legend, would anyone be the least bit concerned about the ground game this season? Both are gifted backs, who are going to be running behind one of the ACC's best offensive lines.
Strength: Talent mix. For years now, Clemson has loved having access to some thunder and lightning action out of the backfield. It'll enjoy that luxury again in 2010, employing the homerun hitting ability of Ellington and knockout punches from Harper. If used properly, this pair will unleash havoc on opposing defenses.
Weakness: Depth. Assuming everyone stays healthy, this concern will disappear in an instant. However, what happens if either Harper or Ellington goes down for an extended period of time? The starting role will be in good hands, but McDowell has no experience and behind him is even more uncertainty.
Outlook: It'll take more than one player to replace Spiller. It's a good thing for Clemson that it has just that—more than quality player to help fill the void. Alone, Ellington and Harper have enough talent to vie for 1,000 yards and all-star recognition. Together, they form an exciting tandem that'll drive ACC defenses batty this fall.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: One of the program's biggest concerns on offense will be replacing its top three receivers, including all-conference WR Jacoby Ford and TE Michael Palmer. The time has come for 6-4, 205-pound senior Xavier Dye to finally deliver on his considerable potential. A big and physical target, he always has the size and height advantage, yet has struggled to make plays and find the open spot on the field. For instance, despite being a nine-game starter in 2009, he only made 14 grabs for 236 yards and three touchdowns, which isn't going to cut it this fall.
Seeking a promotion at the other outside spot is 6-0, 195-pound junior Marquan Jones. Blessed with many of Ford's athletic characteristics, he gets off the line in a hurry and has the jets to get behind the secondary. Though his experience is limited through two seasons, he showed a knack for being Kyle Parker's deep ball threat a year ago, parlaying nine receptions into 176 yards and a touchdown.
Those looking for a possible breakout candidate among the pass catchers ought to learn more about 6-4, 255-pound Dwayne Allen. One of the nation's top tight end recruits of 2008, he put down the first few building blocks of a terrific career, starting a handful of games and making 10 catches for 108 yards and three touchdowns. A dynamic threat at as a receiver, he has the athletic skill set to abuse most linebackers down the seam or in the flat.
Projected Top Reserves: When the Tigers go three-wide, 6-2, 190-pound senior Terrance Ashe is likely to come trotting off the sidelines. While not great in any one area, he's the kind of player coaches love to have at their disposal. A former walk-on and the 2009 winner of the program's Hustle Award, he led the receivers in knockdown blocks and won't hurt you with blown assignments. He's never going to be a prolific pass-catcher, making a career-high 11 grabs for 124 yards last fall.
Basically going neck-and-neck with Dye coming out of spring was 6-5, 210-pound junior Brandon Clear. If he can continue working on the little things, such as his hands and route-running, he possesses the length and 39-inch vertical leap to create mismatches, especially near the end zone. After catching just three passes for 31 yards, he's one of the Tiger receivers just itching for a chance to bust out and make plays.
Closing in on Jones is 6-1, 175-pound redshirt freshman Bryce McNeal. One of the nation's top recruits of 2009 at any position, he used last season to get a little faster and a lot stronger in anticipation of this moment. He has explosive tendencies, getting off the line quickly, using his soft hands to cradle the ball, and then picking up chunks yards after the catch.
Watch Out For … Allen to explode into an ACC star. It's going to be the perfect storm for the sophomore. Not only is he flush with physical ability, but the Tigers are throwing the ball to the tight end more than ever these days, setting a school-record with 60 receptions for 651 yards and eight touchdowns as group last year.
Strength: Length. Those under 6-0 need not apply to play for this group. Up and down the two-deep, the Tiger receivers are long and lean, and able to go well above defensive backs in order to pluck the ball out of the air.
Weakness: Proven wideouts. It's a new year, but the problem is the same. Actually, it's worse since Ford isn't around any longer to raise the overall quotient. No returning wide receiver caught more than 14 passes last season, and the veterans have largely underachieved up to this point.
Outlook: Until proven otherwise, this is an average group that will be aided by the coming-out party of Allen at tight end. Although they look the part coming off the bus, it hasn't always translated to the field. This will have to be a surprise group early on to allow the coaching staff to not rely totally on the ground game.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Projected Starters: Even with the departure of all-star LG Thomas Austin, Clemson is confident about a line that returns four regulars and a bunch of lettermen with 88 career starts. Leading the way at left tackle is 6-7, 325-pound senior Chris Hairston, a third-year starter and a person of interest for NFL types. Coming off his best season on the line, he had 46 knockdowns and graded out well enough to earn a spot on the All-ACC second team. Ideally built, with long arms and good feet, to be a blindside protector, he's now being asked to take on more of a leadership role up front.
Forming a bookend at right tackle will be 6-6, 305-pound junior Landon Walker, who held up rather well in his second season as a full-timer. A nice athlete, who has done well to add strength and muscle since arriving, he's spent part of the offseason improving his technique and flexibility. If he continues to evolve in all phases, he might be the successor to Hairston on the left side in 2011.
The pivot will be manned by 6-5, 280-pound sophomore Dalton Freeman, who's coming off a terrific debut with the program. He broke into the lineup early on and went on to start the final nine games and earn Freshman All-American honors. Light on his feet and tough at the point of attack, he possesses some of the best fundamentals on the squad, portending a very bright future in Death Valley.
Next to Walker at right guard will be 6-6, 320-pound junior Antoine McClain, coming off a breakthrough season as a 14-game starter. A road-grader, with tremendous upside, he got more proficient as the season progressed, finishing second on the team behind Austin with 66 knockdowns. Still, he never had the luxury of a redshirt season and is still evolving from a technical standpoint, which should bode very well for the second half of his career.
The situation at left guard is far less certain. While 6-5, 300-pound junior David Smith gobbled up all of the first team reps in the spring, it was partially due to an injury to his competition. Of course, that shouldn't take away from his best offseason as a Tiger, playing with more confidence and flashing excellent athleticism. Also one of the most versatile linemen on the team, he has ample experience at tackle as well.
Projected Top Reserves: Once he returns from an ankle injury, 6-4, 310-pound junior Mason Cloy will basically be in a dead heat with Smith at left guard. A starter in five games a year ago, he played extensively and finished third on the team with 52 knockdown blocks. He has some ground to make up, but has the physicality and versatility to close the gap when the Tigers reconvene in August.
At left tackle, 6-4, 295-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Thomas is being groomed as the eventual successor to Hairston. Although built more like a guard, he has the natural athleticism and tremendous footwork to evolve into a top pass protector. He needs refinement, which is exactly what he'll get in the hopes of turning him loose in 2011.
Watch Out For … the duel at left guard. Smith and Cloy are near equals in terms of talent, which should make for a very interesting match up in the summer. There'll be no the head for the runner-up because the Tigers as many backups as possible, who can enter the huddle in a moment's notice.
Strength: Pass protection. Even with a young quarterback navigating the pocket in 2009, Clemson yielded only 19 sacks in 14 games to rank second in the ACC. It'll be every bit as air-tight this fall, particularly with Hairston and Walker back at left and right tackle, respectively.
Weakness: Depth. What was considered an asset just one year ago has now cascaded into a serious concern. Besides the loser of the Smith/Cloy battle, Clemson is going to rely on a ton of youth, a situation exacerbated by the spring ACL tear suffered by 6-4, 310-pound junior Wilson Norris.
Outlook: Clemson has done a commendable job of building up the offensive line, a grave concern as recently as two years ago. The first unit is seasoned and as solid as any in the conference. Things, however, could become uncomfortable if injuries strike because the second and third teamers have had precious few reps at this level.
Unit Rating: 7
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2010 Clemson Defense |
Clemson Depth Chart
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