By Gray Gardner.
The Tigers held a situational scrimmage Wednesday morning in Death Valley. Which players received praise following the scrimmage? Are the young freshmen making an impact? TheClemsonInsider.com answers these questions and more in Wednesday’s Practice Notebook.
It was all offense Wednesday morning for Clemson’s second full scrimmage of fall camp.
Head Coach Dabo Swinney said it was one of the best offensive practices he’s ever been a part of.
“It’s probably as good a clean and crisp and well executed offensive scrimmage that I’ve seen – certainly since I’ve been at Clemson,” Swinney said. “I’m just very, very impressed with what we did on offense today.”
Swinney said the group showed outstanding focus and were very disciplined, committing few penalties.
Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris echoed Swinney’s words.
“Our players came out today,” Morris said. “They came out focused and they came out ready. It seemed like we were a lot more physical. We played faster. We definitely showed a lot of improvement.”
Among the stars of Wednesday’s scrimmage were Brandon Ford, Jaron Brown, Charone Peake, Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington, and Dwayne Allen. Although that seems like a long list, Morris admitted that he couldn’t name all of the guys that performed well today.
“We had a lot of (playmakers), a lot of them,” he said. “The ball’s not going to just one person. That’s what is so great about it – it’s being spread all over the field. We’ve got guys stepping up and making plays.”
DEFENSE…WELL, YOU KNOW.
Swinney admitted that when the offense has a good day, it usually means the defense didn’t play very well.
“That was the case today,” he said. “We didn’t respond well at all on defense today. We didn’t really do anything well – didn’t tackle well, didn’t cover well, didn’t compete well.”
Swinney attributed part of the problem to the absence of several veteran players on defense.
“Brandon (Thompson) couldn’t go today, Rennie (Moore) didn’t go today. (Bashaud) Breeland was out. Quan (Christian) didn’t go. Some of the veteran guys that really bring a lot of that energy were out.”
The head coach said he was disappointed that the younger players did not perform well when given opportunities today.
“Our depth didn’t step up. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges right now, just developing (depth),” Swinney said. “I mean we’ve got depth, don’t get me wrong. We can line them up. We’ve got a bunch of names. But dependable depth is a whole different deal.”
According to Swinney, the biggest challenge for the team right now is developing that dependable depth.
“You know, somebody’s tired, the next guy is in and there’s no drop off,” he said. “I think that’s a sign of our youth over there on that side of the ball right now. Some of those guys end up in situations they’ve never been in and they didn’t respond well.”
Swinney expected to see these struggles on defense, given the inexperience on that side of the ball.
“We’ve got good players over there,” he said. “A lot of it is we’re going to have a few growing pains with some youth, and that’s just part of it.”
But Swinney doesn’t expect to see the defense stay down for long.
“I can assure you – one thing I know about our defensive staff – they’ll get these boys’ attention and we’ll see a little more energy out of that side of the ball.”
Despite the defense’s woes, Swinney said the offense made a lot of things happen for itself.
“Give the offensive guys a lot of credit – they really brought it.”
BOYD SURPASSING EXPECTATIONS
The quarterback position was certainly a question mark for Clemson’s offense heading into 2011, but Tajh Boyd is on track to remove all doubt.
“Tajh is having a really, really good camp,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “He’s doing a good job managing the game.”
Morris said his expectation for Boyd was not to win games by himself, but simply to get the ball to the playmakers on offense.
“That’s what’s so versatile about this offense – we’ve got so many different ways to get the ball to our playmakers,” Morris said. “He did a great job of doing that again today.”
Wednesday also marked the second full scrimmage without a turnover for Boyd. Morris knocked on wood when he mentioned that statistic.
“You’ve got to stay on him coaching hard, but we’re taking big steps right now.”
Tajh Boyd’s progress will be crucial to how well Chad Morris can run his offense to its full potential.
Morris has said several times that he strives to complete a lot of deep passes in 2011 – something Clemson offenses have lacked in recent history.
“We’re completing some deep balls. We’re making some things happen,” Morris said.
“What I like about it is we’re hitting our underneath routes as well. Because we’re pushing people deep they’re staying back deep and we’re able to hit some drop offs. Just because we call a deep ball shot doesn’t mean we’re going to throw the deep ball shot.”
So who should Clemson fans expect to see going deep this season?
“Nuke Hopkins is one guy… Nuke made some great plays today. Sammy Watkins made some great plays today. Brandon Ford made some plays.
“We’ve got a lot of guys contributing.”
FORD READY TO COMPETE
Speaking of Brandon Ford – how exactly has he taken to the transition from wide receiver to tight end?
“I just wasn’t selfish about it, like ‘I want to be this great receiver,’” Ford said. “I just want to win.”
Although Ford played a little tight end in high school, the big question was whether or not he could learn to be physical on the line of scrimmage at the college level. Ford said he’s taken it as just another challenge.
“I never made any excuses to Coach Pearman or Coach Dabo. They asked me to move and I said, ‘Hey, I’ll do it,’” Ford said.
“Coach Pearman stresses technique and point of attack. You just got to be a man. You can’t go out there scared. One thing from the transition is you just have to grow up and take on anything he asks you to do.”
Ford’s receiving ability has never been in question – several players have credited him as having the best hands on the team. Ford would agree.
“I think I do. But we have a lot of receivers on the team that can catch the ball.
With me, they just kept putting me in positions to make plays. If the ball is close to me or hits my hands, I just got to catch it.”
ELLINGTON 100% HEALTHY
Questions concerning Andre Ellington’s health after a season ending toe injury a season ago can now be put to rest.
“It’s really 100% right now,” Ellington said. “Going through each day I really don’t know it’s there any more.”
Ellington said getting past the mental aspect of the injury was the most challenging part of getting back on the field.
“I had to get over the fear of my injury, but I’m far over that now,” he said.
Now the focus for Ellington turns from the injury to getting back into shape.
“Off-season work is one set of work, but it’s a whole lot different from actually going through football plays and hustling up and down the field, getting tackled, having to come back to the line of scrimmage and get in another play,” he said.
“It’s just a different type of shape you have to be in. I’m working to get back in that type of shape.”
#23 doesn’t think the fast tempo offense will create troubles for him getting into shape come game time.
“Come September 3rd I’ll be well and ready to go,” he said. “I want to be that guy that they’re expecting me to be.”
-Chad Morris would not name offensive starters, but said they have a “great idea” of who the starters will be.
“We’ve got an idea, but we’ve got guys still pushing each other right now,” Morris said. “I know I’m going to be there – I’m going to be there calling plays. I know Tajh is going to be there. Dalton Freeman will probably be out there. It’s just hard to say right now. I have a great idea, but I’m not going to share with y’all right now.”
-Morris did say which freshmen will play on offense, just without actually saying it.
“They’ll be a few young guys that get on the field playing. The guys we’ve been mentioning that have been making plays. You’ll see those guys this year, there’s no doubt about that.”
One would guess this list includes Sammy Watkins, Mike Bellamy, and Charone Peake – among others.
“You can’t keep playmakers on the sidelines.”
-Dabo Swinney commented on the situation with Rennie Moore:
“He’ll be back tonight. There’s just consequences for your actions. Again, if we’re going to be a good team we’re going to be disciplined. All the time. Fourth and one, first and ten, if you’re backed up or coming out – this is a game of discipline. It was just some discipline for him today. He’s handled it well and he’ll be back tonight.”