By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- Around this time last season, offensive coordinator Chad Morris had his work cut out for him as he worked with a first year starting quarterback and several freshmen receivers to install his spread offense. After a successful season, in which Morris’s offense led the Tigers’ to an ACC Championship crown, his job is now to find a new wrinkle or something to add into the Tigers’ offense to keep competitors on their toes when facing Clemson.
“We’re not changing what we do,” Morris said on Wednesday after practice. “We’re going to do what we do, we’re just trying to find a new wrinkle, there’s always a better mousetrap.”
The continuous installation process not only helps the Tigers’ on the gridiron but also keeps players excited and ready to come into practice every day.
“It keeps them interested and from thinking that they know everything because I can tell you this they don’t,” Morris said. “They’re a long way from knowing everything. It keeps them fresh and on point though. Anytime you bring back new ideas and new terminology, you keep everyone up to speed and fresh in that regard.”
Clemson’s offensive staff took two trips over the offseason to Nevada and Oklahoma State to become more knowledgeable in their offenses and see what Clemson could add into theirs. Nevada is known for running out of the pistol formation, something that Clemson has played around with but needed to become more knowledgeable on. As for Oklahoma State, Clemson’s staff learned a lot while in Stillwater as they run a similar spread style offense.
“We learned a lot about their passing game while there, they do a lot of really good things,” Morris said. “They’re more of a pass to win team and we’re more of a balanced attack. We went out there and picked up a few odds and ends, like the way they moved receiver (Justin) Blackmon around, I thought they did a very good job of moving him around all over the field. That was our approach, how they moved him around and what were the different concepts, things like that. When you come back and add something you have to throw something away, and I’m a firm believer in that. So in order to add what we learned we’ve got to throw away something that wasn’t working so well.”
Morris was frustrated at times last season in the way Clemson ran the football, especially in short yardage situations, so he’s making a point for a big emphasis to be put on this during spring practice in order to improve this area of their game leading up to next season.
“There’s no question that that’s an emphasis,” Morris said. “That’s a down that you have to create accountability on and that’s what we’re doing. The players know it, are aware of it, and we’re going to hold them accountable. That’s what spring is for, it’s not to see how many plays you can get in, it’s about can we get good at the things that we weren’t very good at last season. So far we’ve taken a step in the right direction; we’re mentally straining them and putting them in mentally tough situations where they feel like they can’t go anymore. And when they feel that way, we’ve got to be right there to put a foot up their tail and tell them you know what you can go some more, and we’re going to go some more.”
One of the main question marks surrounding the Tigers’ this offseason was the inexperienced offensive line, a group that Morris believes has improved greatly over the five day spring practice.
“They’re much better,” Morris said. “Again a lot of ownership and accountability taking place up front, and that was our goal coming in. Again it all falls back to short yardage, but we’re putting a lot of pressure on them up front and holding them accountable. Where we are after five practices, we’re far from feeling like we’ve arrived but we’re making progress and you can see it every day.”
Out of the offensive linemen who have impressed Morris the most, Kalon Davis was the first player he named, a guy who they needed to step up last season but wasn’t ready.
“Kalon Davis has done some really good things,” Morris said. “Tyler Shatley has just jumped in there and was an automatic boost to the offensive line with his athleticism, toughness, and demeanor. Giff Timothy has flashes, he’s like a sparkler on the Fourth of July, you light him up and he looks good, but then he burns out. We’ve just got to keep him lit. The flashes that we see from him are good ones but we’ve just got to keep mentally pushing him to improve.”
Last season Morris was quoted saying that if players don’ t bite as puppies they’re not going to bite as big dogs, now with a slew of puppies to train, including four freshmen, how is he going to get them to bite?
“You’ve got to force them to bite, however you do it you’ve got to force them,” Morris said. “And we’ve got some young guys who are ready to bite and that’s always promising. You see those young ones that should be going to their prom, going through the Paw Drill, they’re out there being physical, playing physical, they’re out there not really knowing what to do but when you line them up and tell them to go forward they’re going to go forward and do it with some authority and a bad attitude, I do like to see some of that. Most of them that are here, it’s like running through the San Francisco fog right now, can’t see a step in front of them because things are happening so fast. I keep telling them it will clear up, and just to keep running.”
Last season Morris talked about the importance of having a center and quarterback in tune with each other, and this season isn’t any different as quarterback Tajh Boyd and center Dalton Freeman have been working with each other for a full year.
“Last season we averaged scoring of a touchdown or field goal every 13.7 snaps last season, we’ve got to increase our snap total and in order to do that we’ve got to get our snap total up,” Morris said. “In order to do that, you’ve got to have your quarterback and center on the same page, playing fast, that’s their goal this spring. We’re challenging them every day, we chart loafs, if we think that they’re wasting time and walking around we’ll chart a loaf and they’ll have to do some up downs after practice for them. They’re being held accountable and I’m very pleased with the pace that we’re playing at, but we’ve got to play faster. There’s no question that we’re so much further ahead than we were this time last year, we’re on pace right now to really push this offense into the latter part of spring into the areas that we haven’t experienced yet.”
Instead of hoping for having a percentage of the playbook learned by the end of spring practice, Morris is focused on technique and getting good at what they have learned already before installing new plays.
As far as his skill players go, Morris has been pleased so far with what he’s seen out of his receivers and running backs, however he’s had to push a few of them harder than expected.
“These receivers are a year into the system, you’d expect them to be better and they are,” Morris said. “Now we can break down the precise route running and the little things that maybe we didn’t talk about as much last season. Martavis Bryant is a kid right now that we know has unbelievable talent, he’s just got to turn it loose a little more, he’s doing well but we need to keep challenging him. Nuk is a player that’s playing fast; he’s stronger than he’s ever been because he’s been through a year of offseason. You can sense his confidence; he’s making unbelievable plays on the field. Sammy is what you can expect from Sammy right now, we’ve got to keep coaching him harder, demand more out of him, he hasn’t arrived yet he may think he has and Sammy doesn’t but we’ve got to keep coaching him harder, get more out of him because that’s what he wants. Jaron Brown is really catching our eye this spring, as a senior you’d expect his leadership and he’s doing a great job in controlling those younger guys. I’m excited about the direction of our skill guys and we’re just going to keep getting better every day.”
As for the running backs, Morris is happy that Andre Ellington is able to practice full speed throughout the spring, something he wasn’t able to do last season due to injury.
“Andre Ellington is having a productive spring up to this point, we know what we’re going to get out of Andre so we’ve got to keep pushing him,” Morris said. “Hot Rod and DJ are guys that have gone through an offseason, getting stronger, having to push those guys to play fast and think fast because when we challenge them they get a little bit tired and stop thinking. Zac Brooks is a true freshman and is doing very well; I’m very pleased with him. He brings a bigger body style than all of them, like all freshmen he’s running through a haze, sometimes he runs high but is learning. Mike Bellamy can break the game open on any step; any play on the field and is doing a good job. We’ve got to continue to push Mike because he’s an unbelievable talent for us and is showing it on the field. We’ve got to get his pass protection better.”