Clemson tight end Milan Richard has big shoes to fill, but the Tigers are confident he can do it.
Clemson named the successor to former star tight end Jordan Leggett after its practice on Thursday, saying Richard will be the starting tight end when the fifth-ranked Tigers open the season against Kent State on Sept. 2.
Head coach Dabo Swinney says Richard is ready to step into the role vacated by Leggett, who departed Clemson as the program’s career leader in receptions (112), receiving yards (1,598) and receiving touchdowns (18) by a tight end.
“I think he’s had a great camp, and I think he’s well prepared. Now he’s just got to go do it,” Swinney said. “He’s certainly prepared. He knows what to do, he’s been in all the situations, he has game experience, and he’s going to get the opportunity to fill that void. He just needs some success on game day and continue to build that confidence from there.”
Biding his time behind Leggett, Richard recorded one reception for nine yards in 172 career snaps over 30 games through his first two seasons. The redshirt junior was ranked as the nation’s No. 2 tight end prospect by ESPN coming out of Calvary Day School (Savannah, Ga.), where he caught 78 passes for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns for his career.
While it may take time for Richard to become the weapon in the passing game that Leggett was, Swinney said he is “light years” ahead of where Leggett was from a blocking standpoint.
“Milan did play tight end (in high school). Leggett, he never hit anybody until he got here, and he didn’t take to it very well either,” Swinney said. “That took a little grooming and a little buying in and that took some time, and then physically he had to really develop, but Milan played tight end, even though he was at a smaller school and all that type of stuff. But he’s definitely ahead in that regard. He’s got what it takes. He’ll do fine.”
Richard is Clemson’s top guy at tight end, but Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said that Cannon Smith will be the Tigers’ starting H-back/fullback in short-yardage and goal-line situations. When Clemson uses three-tight end sets, which it does often throughout the course of a game, D.J. Greenlee will be the third tight end. Elliott also said J.C. Chalk will see the field, as well.
“Cannon would be the guy with his body type that would give us more of the physicality at the point of attack, and he’s gotten better in the passing game and making himself more of an every-down player,” Elliott said. “Milan’s got to fill that role as well. D.J. Greenlee is a guy that’s going to get a lot of reps that has to fill in, so until we get out there and we have an opportunity to see, all those guys have to be prepared to fill that role.”