When the 60,000 fans saw Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson making plays in Clemson’s spring game this past April, it’s what they expected. The two freshmen wide receivers were highly coveted in the recruiting process and both were talked about a lot from the coaches and other players leading up to the annual spring game.
However, what head coach Dabo Swinney noticed was something the average Joe would not recognize from the stands. Swinney noticed how much both players improved when it came to using their hands, something they very rarely had to do in high school.
“They were not very good with their hands (at first) because they never had to play with their hands,” Swinney said.
In high school, Ngata and Ladson could usually just blow past a defender. So, to counter their talents, defenses usually employed a Cover 2 and had somebody over the top. Rarely did they encounter press coverage or someone on the other side that is just as talented as they are.
However, when they got to Clemson, they saw press coverage in practice every day.
“(In high school), they are not having to really live with release-technique and having to play with their hands, eyes and feet and have them all working together,” Swinney said. “That is usually the hardest thing for all those guys when they first get here. If you can’t play with your hands, then you are in trouble because they are going against guys that are just like them.
“I don’t care how good your feet are, how strong you are and how fast you are. If you can’t win with your hands and coordinate that with your eyes and your feet, then you’re in trouble.”
Early on in the spring, the two freshmen were in trouble, but as the practices went along, they improved and then all of sudden they started to make plays.
The transition was a little easier for Ngata, who came into camp at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. However, Ladson was smaller (6-4, 170) and it took a little time for him to catch on while building up some strength.
“That usually takes a little time and they have made great progress there,” Swinney said. “Skills and drills this summer will be big for those guys. They had great springs. They made plays on everybody. It is going to be really fun to watch them continue to develop.”