When Clemson’s offense is at its most efficient, is when it feels like it can keep its base personnel in the game and still stretch the field. The Tigers’ base personnel is simple, it’s called an 11-personnel offense or commonly known as a one running back and one tight end set.
The Clemson coaches will tell you the height of their efficiency, to this point, came during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. They had an answer for just about everything a defense threw at them.
Deshaun Watson was at quarterback and could run and sling the football with the best of them. Wayne Gallman was churning out 1,500-yard seasons on the ground, while Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud were all playmakers at wide receiver.
Then there was Clemson’s secret weapon. Tight end Jordan Leggett.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end, who could run routes like a receiver, stretched the field in a way the Tigers still have not been able to duplicate since.
“When we are at our best is when we can stay in that base personnel and really stretch the field with all four receivers being on the field and the tight end being one of them,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
In 2015 and 2016, Leggett combined to catch 86 passes for 1,261 yards and 15 touchdowns, while averaging 14.6 yards per catch. In the three seasons since the former All-American moved on to the NFL, eight Clemson tight ends have combined to catch just 66 passes for 656 yards and four touchdowns. They averaged just 9.9 yards per reception.
Clemson was hoping last year would have changed all of that, but Braden Galloway, who the coaches recruited to Clemson because he had the same attributes that made Leggett an NFL tight end, did not get on the field until the College Football Playoff. He had to serve a year-long suspension by the NCAA after failing a drug test prior to the 2019 Cotton Bowl and losing his appeal last spring.
The Tigers have made do without having a pass-catching tight end and has done okay without one, winning another national championship in 2018 and playing for it again in 2019. They masked not have much production at tight end, from a catch and yardage standpoint, by making it up with Hunter Renfrow in 2017 and ’18 and then this past year with Travis Etienne out of the backfield.
It was obvious this past season, with Renfrow now playing for the Raiders, Clemson was missing that over the middle presence, especially on third down.
However, Galloway gave a glimpse of what the future might be like at the position over the next couple of years when he caught a first-quarter pass in the national championship game from Trevor Lawrence and raced 42 yards down the middle of the field.
“There are a lot of comparisons out there between me and (Leggett), maybe because our body types are the same,” Galloway said. “I am just going out there trying to be the best player I can be and the best player I can be for this team.”
Galloway finished the national championship game with two catches for 60 yards. In the very little playing-time he has had as a true freshman and then just in the two playoff games last year, he has caught seven passes for 112 yards, or 16.0 yards per catch.
“I am very confident in my speed and abilities and I just trust the coaches and their play calling to just put everybody in the right positions to make plays,” he said. “I knew I could run this stuff but being in game shape is different than running in game shape. It is too different things, especially in the playoff. But I feel like I gained that confidence back in the Ohio State game and that bled into the LSU game.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Galloway said he and Lawrence threw after practice once or twice a week and even came in on the weekends at times to work on their timing.
The coaches also moved the junior into the slot, a position Leggett occupied a lot, which created matchup problems for just about every defense the Tigers faced.
“I am trying to open up my route tree and expand that more,” Galloway said. “We will see. That is the plan right now. Obviously, I am the tight end, but I am getting a few reps here and there at the five-man.”
And Clemson is slowly trying to bring the tight end back into its arsenal on offense.
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