By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
Having a third-year starter at quarterback behind a largely experienced and athletic offensive line affords Chad Morris the luxury of exploring more options in the Clemson offense this season and, perhaps, becoming more explosive.
“Having a guy back for a third year allows us to expand even more in our offense,” he said of All-American Tajh Boyd. “He gets it. He knows it. He knows my personality. I know his personality. He and I think a lot alike in certain situations, and I think those are things you can’t coach.”
In Morris’ second season as offensive coordinator and as Boyd’s mentor, Clemson ranked No. 9 nationally in total offense in 2012, No. 13 in passing offense, No. 4 in passing efficiency and No. 6 in scoring.
“I fully expect us to be better. I expect us to be more aggressive. I expect us to expand in our offense with a third-year starter back.”
Morris said he intends for Boyd to become intimately involved in game planning this season by including him in meetings with the offensive coaches. He said Boyd has already called him with ideas for tweaking the offense, which continued to morph.
Morris said he wants Boyd to master the entire playbook – 100 percent.
Last season Boyd passed for nearly 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns, ran for 10 more touchdowns and put the team on his back to beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He was fifth nationally in passing efficiency and seventh in total offense, and was voted All-American and ACC player of the year.
“I’m still going to challenge him. I’m going to coach him harder this year than he’s ever been coached,” Morris said. “I’m going to put more on him this year, but I think he’s ready for that.”
Morris estimated they’re probably at 80 percent, but there’s more to Boyd’s tutelage than knowing the offense.
“You can always improve your footwork. He can always improve in his coverage recognition, his blitz recognition,” Morris said. “I think he’s going to have an unbelievable year because he gets it. He understands it.”
Among the measurables, Morris said he wants to play faster and run more efficiently.
Clemson was third behind Marshall and Louisiana Tech in 2012 averaging 85.3 plays per game. Understanding he’ll have a new center, critical to modulating the offense’s pace, Morris would like to push the average to 92.
Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo may take their battle at center to the final week based on the competition during spring practice. Morris said his expectations are not high.
“Just get the ball to my quarterback, that’s the main job,” he said. “You get it to him without him chasing it everywhere we’ll get along just fine.”
Another critical component to the line is the development of sophomore Isaiah Battle. Morris was ecstatic with Battle’s performance against the big nasties in the bowl game and anticipated him securing left tackle during the spring.
It did not happen.
There’s still a window in August. If Battle can lock down the job, all sorts of options open along the line. Ideally senior Brandon Thomas – the team’s other shepherd this summer with Boyd – would be at guard. Or he could nudge Giff Timothy at right tackle.
“It will make us so much more athletic across the front,” Morris said. “Isaiah was a good backup in the spring.
“Where will he be after camp? I don’t know. You hope that with the maturity level, he starts to figure it out.”
At 90 plays a game – allowing for 35-40 passes – affords plenty of run opportunities, so obviously one back won’t be enough. Boyd runs some, but the heavy lifting will be distributed to three or four backs led by senior Rod McDowell. A gifted, electric runner in high school, McDowell has been limited by injury and the talent ahead of him on the depth chart.
After averaging 200 yards rushing last season, Morris said he’s shooting for 226 this season. He agreed that a freshman – likely Tyson Dye – will join the rotation. Dye, he said, reported at 218 pounds.
Tight end should be interesting. Redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCullough may be closest to the prototype, but senior Darryl Smith has savvy, converted receiver Stanton Seckinger has the hands and is growing into the role and freshman Jordan Leggett was a standout during spring.
One of the charges to Boyd after spring practice was to grow the kinetic relationship with Sammy Watkins that he had with Nuk Hopkins. Boyd said this week that they’ve become closer as teammates and friends. Their mothers are now good buddies, too, after Watkins’ family moved to the Upstate during the winter.
Charone Peake, Martavis Bryant and Adam Humphries are counted on to complement Watkins and alleviate the heat on him. Morris said Peake may be the next great receiver, much as Hopkins was last season.
“Charone is on track to have a great year. It’s his time,” Morris said. “We talk about being the most explosive offense in the country and we have been. There are so many things and so many hidden yards we left out there.
“There’s so much more we can do better.”