Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Spring Game Redux: Getting Offensive Part 1

I've been looking around the Internet and soaking in what everyone has been saying. Not sure I have too much that is original to say but that has never stopped me before from sending my voice into a tube that will then enter a series of tubes.

So what did we learn from the Spring Game? Nothing, but are we going to act like it told us a whole bunch? You betcha...(complete with Palin eye wink)

Boyd looks to be in a little better shape. He said in a recent interview that he gained 8 pounds during the season.  Wow. This always makes me a bit suspect when we hear about his dedication and leadership.  I think Boyd genuinely wants to lead but also is susceptible to little demons. A few too many cheeseburgers or letting a bad play get to him.  I do think he can lead and has shown his ability. His footwork is slowly improving. But those of us who have watched him play every game, every play know that his is prone to these ridiculous throws about once a game, he still locks onto targets and will force the ball rather than taking the check down, first down throw.

His second interception in the game was that exact what in the world--throw it to the FSU Werner DLineman TD type throw. That can't happen with a championship caliber QB. He threw another underhand almost picked off pass at the goal-line as well rather than throwing the ball away. So positives but with a vanilla D, as Dr. B at Shakin said, he should have ripped it to shreds while easily spreading the ball around. Tajh needs to manage the game but depending on the O-Line he may need to make quicker, better decisions with the football. They aren't going to do him any favors so he becomes all the more important.  When to take the sack, when to throw it away, when to maintain your poise--all these things will be magnified by a sub par O-line. Harper wasn't up to that challenge in 08'.

Stoudt looked better than Spring practice and Roberts looked a little better that Will Procter. Neither have the release or arm strength to be elite QB's but Stoudt is a decent back-up. Tony is done for the season but with the medical redshirt it might be good for him. He needs to re-evaluate whether he wants to be a QB or try to help the team in other ways.

Ellington is out with minor surgery which should be nothing. We need him to be explosive to repeat this year. The fact that we missed on some elite RB's in the last class was tempered with the return of Andre. The pistol is encouraging and I love the coaching staff looking for logical solutions to problems. Morris knows the O-Line will be problematic so how do we scheme to help that problem area out? Well get the ball out quickly, increase tempo and throw in the pistol. Beautiful.  Also encouraging that the backs are catching the ball better--we were really horrid on checkdowns to the flats last year (some of that is on Boyd too). This is the area Ellington must improve on to boost his draft stock, that and staying healthy.

Howard has a chance to be a solid contributor and is a decent two as a north/south runner but you would like to see him improve his strength to run some people over more. Bellamy is amazing but can't put the ball on the ground. Still crossing my fingers that he puts it all together. He has been more impressive running between the tackles but has to maintain that focus in the open field, so the ball stays high and tight.  Must improve the blocking but also understanding of assignments and where to line up, knowledge of the plays and scheme.  Hot rod is running out of time (ha). Brooks is an exciting prospect that Morris seems to really like, he showed some flashes during the game.

Ford is going to be fine as a Dwayne Allen replacement. Still needs some work in the trenches and blocking.  Ford will be a weapon for us and that was another great personnel decision.  Cooper has underachieved. Morris said he has been sick and banged up but hopefully he can put it together because he offers a steady skill set in terms of blocking and catching as a back-up. Seckinger moving to TE is good, I had written him off with the transition but he looked pretty fluid as a TE. He will need to develop now into a TE but is still young and can follow after Ford nicely.  MacLain came in highly recruited and the staff needs to figure out what to do with him. Can he grow into an OT or will he be a major contributor at TE. I think you need to make the decision this year, this summer and stick to it. Smith is a special teamer but had a nice catch and is an above average blocker. He might get some PT this year is a back-up role. He is a special teams contributor as well.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Where the Problems might lie: DE Edition

Every year I like to think about problem areas we are not focusing on and try to predict where potential breakdowns might exist on the team. Last year I think the area we were weakest at but no one was talking about was the Safety position, which culminated with our spanking by WV.

So where could it be this year? We know that the offensive line will be a question mark especially depth along the offensive line. So that isn't very interesting. Timothy Gifford seems to be stepping up potentially in the RT spot and as I predicted Thomas has moved to LT because you can't start two freshman tackles and not be really worried. Right now we need Kalon Davis and a tackle to step up but we really lack any proven quality depth. Remember last year we had two back-ups in Cloy and Smith who had played a lot of quality snaps in their careers. Can Norton step up? He has been less than stellar as a back-up center so far. Will guys get into shape?

What are we overlooking? I was going to write this last week but Coach Venables beat me to the punch (which is really encouraging because I think he has made some great personnel and coaching decisions already), by saying that the DE's need to improve. Last year we were not playing at the same level as in the past with the departure of Bowers to the NFL. Branch did a great job and was at times dominant but was not as strong against the run. Goodman was not very good. He didn't set the edge with any authority and had virtually no pass rush. A Batson victim, he has gotten to big and lost some of his speed and agility while at Clemson. As a Sophomore he was one of the first flying down the field making tackles on special teams. Now as the only returning starter he has a lot to prove.

Corey Crawford is going to start on his other side. In a back-up role Crawford did fine last year, especially as a true freshman but he needs to take the proverbial next step and has yet to show he is an every down kind of player. Our back-ups haven't really played yet. Very little competition to push the top guys. Vic Beasley is an athletic specimen who was on the offensive side of the ball his red-shirt year and was on the DE depth chart last year. He still has to learn to play the position. The reports say he is fine athletically and is developing technique but needs to get the defensive mentality. This is understandable since he never grew up playing the position. Byers and Dodd are are a red-shirt frosh and a true freshman. They need time to develop into back-ups.

What is the theme here? Lack of depth and susceptibility to injury. DE recruiting (and DLine) needs to be a serious priority in this cycle. It should have been more of a priority last cycle. I think we are looking good with TE's and WR's...We are bringing in Shaq Lawson and Martin Aiken this year who will be fine players but will need a year or two. We will probably end up burning one of their redshirts to provide depth. We need a top flight 4* recruit badly. Its the first time in probably 8 years we will not have a borderline 4/5 star DE on campus. Sapp, Bowers, and Goodman were all in this area with Merling, Branch, Gaines Adams, and others being low rated recruits who got drafted in the 1st/2nd rounds.

Other potential pitfall areas we aren't thinking about:
  • Punter: Benton has positive reviews so far with Pinion a quality recruit to back-up
  • Safety: Can Hall recover from the injury to return to at least his Soph year productivity, will Meeks learn how to take better angles. Do we have any depth after wasting Robert Smith's redshirt?
  • CB: How much does the departure of Sensabaugh hurt our secondary. He was an every down player. Breeland was decent last year but Robinson took a step back. Blanks training at the Nickel is a big positive because Brewer statistically last year was picked on and below average. The Football Scientist uses Yards Per Attempt as a metric and according to YPA Brewer gave up 10.3 YPA which is horrid. Jenkins improved last year but it will be interesting to see how the types of players Venables uses in his scheme. More SAM backer with Lateek or a smaller Nickel back like Jenkins.
 A quick note on Venables: I love the move of Hawkins to WILL! Seems like Steele was worried about playing favorites or guys transferring because this should have been done long ago. Hawkins was never suited to play MLB and hopefully will benefit from the change. Anthony will be the most important player on defense this year. As he goes I think our defense goes. Not having a stellar line will put more pressure on our LB play. I love hearing Lateek Townsend's name being put in the mix. He is the kind of athlete that needs to see the field and it is positive to hear Justin Parker's career could still have some legs.

I like Venables decision to stick Blanks in the Nickel spot. If he can lock that spot down and perform well he gives us the flexibility to adjust to any offensive scheme. It is encouraging to hear the interior DLine coming along but I am always worried that it is more about our poor OLine play than DLine talent. Gotta love spring ball!
A blog about all Clemson Tiger University sports--football, basketball, baseball, along with the occasional South Carolina coot bashing.