By Heath Bradley.
Replacing Dwayne Allen will be a key to offensive success in 2012.
played a key role in 2011 in both the passing game, but also blocking on the line and downfield in the Clemson ground attack. Allen had maybe the greatest season of any tight end in Clemson history in 2011, one that saw him catch 50 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns. He was named a consensus First-team All-American, as well as First-Team All-ACC, Allen was also the recipient of the John Mackey Award, the award given to the nation’s top tight end. Following the 2011 season, Allen decided to forego his final year of eligibility at Clemson and enter the 2012 NFL Draft. Allen was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the draft with the 64th overall selection. He finished his career in Clemson with 93 catches for 1079 yards and 12 touchdowns. Most importantly, Allen started the final 28 games in a row for Clemson, providing a reliable target for Clemson quarterbacks and leadership on the field.
Set to replace Dwayne Allen, is a trio of Tigers, led by Brandon Ford. Ford, who is in his fifth year in a Tiger uniform is a converted wide receiver. In his career, Ford has caught 25 passes for 248 yards and four touchdowns. Ford converted from wide receiver in 2010 and immediately became Allen’s backup. Ford had his best game as a Tiger in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, on his 21st birthday. That game saw him catch four passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns. He became the first Tiger in history to catch two touchdowns in a bowl game.
Ford has made many spectacular catches in his career and we do not expect to see much drop off in the receiving game from Ford. His past a wide receiver will help him in route running and with his ability to make the tough catch, he will also be a tough matchup for many linebackers due to his athleticism. What will be most important is how he translate to also being an on the line blocker in certain situations. If Ford can become a stronger blocker, which he has worked this off season to do, expect him to be the every down tight end.
Sam Cooper, a redshirt sophomore, is currently listed as the second team tight end. Cooper appeared in 14 games in 2011, catching one pass, an 18-yard reception versus Maryland. At 6 foot 4 and almost 250 pounds Cooper has the ideal frame for a tight end. If he can continue to improve his hands and strength he could become a valuable asset to the Clemson offense. Redshirt freshman Eric Mac Lain will also be in the fold at tight end this season. Mac Lain, a highly recruited prospect from North Carolina is 6 foot 4 and 265 pounds, a top-10 tight end recruit nationally in the class of 2011, expect to see Mac Lain contribute this season as an on the line blocker in run situations. Mac Lain also has the ability to catch the ball, catching 26 passes for 393 yards and six touchdowns as a high school senior in 2010.
Replacing Dwayne Allen will be a tough task, however, Clemson has more than the necessary amount of talent at the position to do so. While you may not see one of these three players have a season like Allen did in 2011, their combined efforts may very well equal if not go past those of Allen. If the Tigers can get quality contributions from the tight end position in 2012, it will go a long way in the overall success of the offense. A receiving threat at the tight end position will open up more space for the talented wide receiver corps of the Tigers while quality blocking from the tight end corps will help the Clemson ground attack be a more vital part of the offense in 2012.