Heading into fall camp next month, Clemson tight ends coach Danny Pearman is tasked with getting true freshmen tight ends Jaelyn Lay and Davis Allen ready to play this season.
Both players are raw, but both will likely have a role on the offense this season and must help the Tigers pick up the slack now that the depth at tight end has thinned out.
Promising sophomore Braden Galloway has been suspended by the NCAA for the entire 2019 regular season after he, along with former defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and offensive lineman Zach Giella, tested positive for trace amounts of Ostarine in a random drug test prior to the Cotton Bowl. Garrett Williams has moved on from the program, while Milan Richard and Cannon Smith have both graduated.
That leaves the Tigers with redshirt junior J.C. Chalk, who enters fall camp as the starter at tight end, along with converted linebacker Luke Price, Georgia Southern transfer J.L. Banks, and the two freshmen.
“They’ve got to spend some extra time getting as brought up to speed in the playbook as they can,” Pearman said of Lay and Allen. “On top of that, they’ve got lots of time in the evening to not only get film, volunteer themselves to get caught up. And they’ve both done a good job. I look forward to getting started with them in a couple weeks and see where they’re at, and then go meet them where they’re at and bring them to where they’ve got to get to.
“That’s going to be a fun challenge, and that’s what I look forward to.”
Lay enrolled early in January and went through spring practice but struggled at times with the Tigers’ scheme, which isn’t unusual for a first-year player, especially at tight end. Besides quarterback, it is the hardest skill position to learn and play on offense because of all the different responsibilities a tight end has.
“I think Jaelyn, a lot of it, is just learning what to do and how to do it,” Pearman said. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform, and if he has one drop, he’s been able to have a couple. And so, he’s got to relax and just kind of grow at this thing. It will be interesting to watch this kid develop.”
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Lay, who was rated as one of the top five tight ends or H-Backs in the nation by ESPN and Rivals coming out of Riverdale High School in Atlanta, possesses a plethora of talent and has tremendous upside. He has plenty of room to get better, though, in terms of his polish and knowledge of the position.
“Obviously he was better in practice 15 than he was in practice one,” Pearman said. “How much further he’s got to go, he’s got some. But he’s got to go far enough where he’s got confidence not only in himself, but that he’s one of our best 11 we can put out there.”
Pearman has gotten positive returns on Lay this summer and looks forward to seeing where he is at in his development entering fall camp.
“This spring, the best thing is he was able to get here and have 15 days of spring practice, which is a great addition for him,” Pearman said. “And this summer, he’s really taken it on and spent time in the film room, spent time learning and doing a good job that way. He’s been in skills and drills, just like we have each summer. And so it will be interesting to see how he shows back up in August and see how much he’s been able to retain and improve on.”
Allen, meanwhile, stands at 6-foot-4.5 and 235 pounds after enrolling this summer according to Pearman.
Pearman believes that Allen, who was a multi-sport athlete at Calhoun (Ga.) High School, might be an even better athlete than Lay and is excited to work with him when fall camp kicks off in August.
“He’s going to get an opportunity,” Pearman said. “He’s a freshman, good-looking kid. He’s 235 pounds, 6-4 and a half, runs good — I would say if you really watched him, he may be the best athlete of the bunch. He was a really good high school basketball player. He was a really good high school baseball pitcher, and he’s a good athlete. So, I’m interested to see where he’s at after being here in second session of summer school, and then to see where we can get him for the first couple games.”
Pearman says Allen and Lay are more advanced from a physical standpoint than most of the tight ends the Tigers have recruited in recent memory. He is excited about their potential but knows there is a lot of unknows with the two freshmen heading into the upcoming campaign.
“I looked at Lay’s size the other day and I looked at Davis coming in — those are big, athletic kids, which is a bright thing,” Pearman said. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to translate and be great players day one or practice one.
“I think the two freshmen, it’s unknown what they’re good at. I think they both measure really well, they walk through the door really well. Can they put the ball down and get out of the way and actually play? We’ll have to see. We’re going to have to put them in that environment and see what they can do.”