By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
Practice began today but preparation for this season actually began 56 months ago.
Very shortly Clemson should know if it faces a choppy sea or calm water.
Lighting the fuse
With four starters returning on the offensive line and potential for further depth if sophomore Isaiah Battle asserts himself at left tackle all the attention will be at center.
Dalton Freeman and quarterback Tajh Boyd were in lockstep in Chad Morris’ scheme. Morris wants to push the speed by nearly 10 percent, so Boyd needs a center with a gunfighter’s cool and a chess master’s vision.
“We have to make sure they don’t get bored so that is the challenge for us as a coaching staff,” Morris said. “The biggest thing we are going to do is we are going to push the envelope hard for three straight days of install. What I would like to have done is have the entire offense (installed) in three days.
“With that being said, we are really going to push them hard.”
Morris said he does not have a preference – Ryan Norton or Jay Guillermo – “just get the ball to my quarterback, that’s the main job. You get it to him without him chasing it everywhere we’ll get along just fine.”
Bombs and bullets
When C.J. Spiller was a senior, Swinney said he wasn’t going to look back and regret not giving him a chance to influence the outcome of every game. If there’s any lingering doubt about Boyd’s ability to load the team on his back, watch a replay of the bowl game.
However, he can’t be expected to take that kind of pounding the entire season and deliver the same results week after week.
Sammy Watkins ought to be capable of sharing the heavy lifting. As a freshman it seemed effortless. Disappointed and unfulfilled by last season, he returns fit and focused. While he’ll also be Boyd’s safety blanket much like Nuk Hopkins, Watkins’ skills are vastly more linear opening the playbook for Morris.
His sheer presence should create opportunities for Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Charone Peake.
Peake, probably more like Hopkins than Watkins, could become the first alternative for Boyd. Humphries may be the most underrated athlete anytime he’s on the field. And Bryant is reminiscent of those long, lithe athletic receivers like Randy Moss.
Morris also needs a dependable run game. Nobody outside of Swinney seems convinced that Rod McDowell can take the lead, but he has the quickness, vision and instincts to be a dynamic back.
And, finally, the tight end under Morris has emerged as a relevant position. With probably the best set of hands this side of Hopkins, Stanton Seckinger returns thicker and stronger and determined to have an impact. Jordan Leggett was the surprise of the spring. And there’s hope the light will go on for Jay Jay McCullough, who one day may fit the prototype.
Water on the fire
Brent Venables looks as relaxed and confident as any manic former linebacker can facing a schedule that opens and closes against top 10 SEC opponents. Venables earned his money the first season, and the front seven, with experience and depth at every position, Swinney insists it may be the team’s strength.
Biggest problem last season was the vulnerability to big plays, largely traceable to being out of position before the snap, particularly in the secondary. Recruiting certainly raised the quality and depth of talent in the defensive backfield, but it remains to be seen if in fact MacKensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse can be ready by Georgia.
Fire in the hole
For the first time Swinney has an entirely hand picked roster and staff. Boyd has embraced the role as the current face of the program in addition to serving as the lightning rod and unchallenged leader. And with the expectations as high as any time in at least five years, managing the message becomes more critical.
Swinney has worked minimizing distractions by minimizing access to his players and staff. Obviously with the expectations this season, the potential for a hiccup are incalculable, yet even without Twitter and Facebook until January, he knows they’re not living in a void.
“Don’t buy the lie,” Swinney tells them.
Five years ago, Clemson opened against Alabama in the Georgia Dome, highly favored and ranked in the top 10. Alabama was on the fringe of the radar.
Two months later, Swinney was interim head coach.
That December he began to recruit Boyd, one of the 12 players signed to his first recruiting class.
And, so, it began.