Under Dabo Swinney, Clemson has had some of the best tight ends in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
When the Tigers have been really good on offense, they have had an All-ACC tight end … Michael Palmer (2009), Dwayne Allen (2010, 2011), Brandon Ford (2012) and Jordan Leggett (2015, 2016).
“We are an eleven personnel team, and sometimes two tight ends, but mostly we are eleven personnel,” Swinney said. “We are very much tight end oriented when we are at our best. So, we have the ability to do what we want to do in the run game, the protection game, the play-action game, the whole deal.”
Clemson, who opens the 2018 season on Saturday against Furman at Death Valley, is hoping its tight end position can get back to where it was when it was producing All-ACC tight ends in six of Swinney’s previous nine years.
With Leggett putting up record setting numbers, the Tigers’ offense took off in 2015 and ’16. It did the same with Allen in 2011 and Ford in 2012.
“I think it is good for our offense when we are super involved,” tight end Garrett Williams said.
With Williams back from an ACL injury, and with Milan Richard a year older, wiser and more experienced, Swinney likes what he has at the position and thinks the Tigers can be better.
“It is exciting being more in that role because everybody wants to have the ball in their hands at some point,” Williams said. “Our offense is designed to have a three-back that’s versatile. I think with me and Milan we can bring that to the offense this year.”
Since the spring, Williams has been the talk of practice. Swinney, co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott and tight ends coach Danny Pearman have been singing his praises.
Elliott even said the junior had the best practice of any player in fall camp.
“He also had one of the best springs,” Swinney said. “Really, what he did in camp was a reflection of what he did in the spring. He had a great spring.”
Swinney said Williams is a perfect example of what redshirting can sometimes do for a player, even a veteran player such as himself. Under the new redshirt rule, veteran players can now be redshirted if the opportunity presents itself and they have a year to redshirt.
Williams played as a true freshman and sophomore before his ACL injury in the spring of 2017 caused him to miss a good portion of the regular season last year. When he was cleared to play midway through the season, the coaching staff and Williams felt like it was best that he redshirt the year and get his whole year back.
Because he missed most of camp with a toe injury, Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables have decided to hold linebacker James Skalski back if they can. Under the new rule, he will still get to play in four games and will keep his redshirt.
“I think Garrett is a perfect example of a guy we stole a year back from last year. That really has helped him and really has made a difference,” Swinney said. “He showed up in the spring and it carried over into the summer and he just had an awesome camp. I think he has earned that.”
For Williams, it has been a long and hard process back, but he is excited to get back on the field on Saturday where he will possibly start his first game with Richard listed as questionable with a knee injury.
The two were listed as co-starters on the depth chart Clemson released for the Furman game.
“You always want to get the ball in your hands some times. So, I have been working real hard in the off-season with skills and drills in the summer and doing all I could do to get my routes right and crisp and my hands better,” he said. “In camp, I feel like I have been pretty successful in the passing game so moving forward, I will continue to progress, progress and progress every day.”