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We get back to our football schedule and it is tight ends week on the radio show and the blog.
In many offenses the tight end has not had a prominent role. When teams went to the spread offense the tight end was often times on the sideline. However, when Tommy Bowden hired Rob Spence as his offensive coordinator the tight ends were the happiest scholarship players.
In the previous Clemson offense the tight end may have played 40 snaps per game. Now, Spence might play two tight ends on 40 plays per game. This offense feature three tight end sets and I have seen four tight ends in the game at once.
There is one other change this season concerning tight ends in the Tigers have Billy Nappier as their coach. Nappier spent one year as a graduate assistant at Clemson before heading to a full-time position at South Carolina State. The former Furman quarterback is an upgrade as a coach and especially as a recruiter.
Clemson received good news when Thomas Hunter decided to return for his fifth year. The former walk-on is a dependable blocker and continues to improve on his pass receiving skills. Last season Hunter caught 13 balls for 120 yards but those numbers should improve. He started six games a year ago and is considered the number one tight end on campus.
Akeem Robinson has found his position after two seasons. His hard work and determination have Nappier excited about Robinson as he continues to learn the position. Robinson is the best looking specimen here. His larger frame may have limited his flexibility but his hard work to overcome has helped his cause. Robinson may have been the biggest surprise on the offensive side of the ball in the spring.
Durrell Barry red-shirted last season and needed that year to improve his body and strength. Barry is a former high school wide out and played some quarterback in prep school. This is the best threat as a receiving tight end. This is a red-shirt freshman that should see significant snaps this season.
Paul Muse is a solid prospect who red-shirted last season. He has a solid frame and could continue his development this season. I would not expect Muse to be a major factor early this season but his role could increase as the season goes on.
Michael Palmer was signed last season after he had offers from Clemson and Virginia. He has very good hands but does not possess great speed. I think Palmer could red-shirt this season but his dependability will be counted on pretty early in his career.
I believe that Clemson will look to sign at least two tight ends in the upcoming recruiting class also.
This position will always have a role in Spence’s offenses but this year it could be larger. Because of Will Proctor’s style as a quarterback, I believe you will see a lot of bootlegs and short passes in the flats to the tight ends.
The Uphill Journey
Had the Tigers beaten the Tar Heels Sunday night in Omaha they would have been one win away from the title game. UNC beat Clemson and now the hard part begins. Winning three straight games against this kind of competition is always difficult but this year may be even tougher.
Clemson will face Cal State Fullerton’s No. 2 starting pitcher, Lauren Gagnier (14-5, 2.52 ERA) in an elimination game. The Tigers will counter with Jason Berken.
The Tigers would then have to beat two first-round draft picks on consecutive nights against the Tar Heels. Wednesday night I would think they would face Daniel Bard the 28th pick in the draft. Bard is 8-3 with a 3.59 ERA. In 87.2 innings he has 90 strikeouts.
On Thursday I think UNC would go with Andrew Miller, the sixth pick of the draft. Miller is 13-2 with a 2.36 ERA. In 118 innings he has 128 strikeouts.
The task is difficult but not impossible. If we have learned anything about this Clemson team it is that they will compete on every out of every inning.
Give Spence Some Credit
I wanted to include one more football note in today’s blog so I went back and looked at the nine major offensive categories from last season and compared them to the previous year. The Tigers improved in all nine categories in year one under first year offensive coordinator Rob Spence and I believe that is a remarkable feat.
First they improved in wins from six in 2004 to eight in 2005. The points per game improved from 21.5 in 2004 to 26.3 last season. The turnovers went from a minus 8 in 2004 to a plus nine last season. The rushing yards improved from 108 per contest in 2004 to 153 per game in 2005. Yards per carry increased from 3.1 to 4.1 in the first year under Spence. The passing yards increased from 188 per game in 2004 to 232 a year ago. Yards per pass went from 13.8 to 14.6 after Spence arrived.
One main stat I did not include was the time of possession. The Tigers’ offense was on the field longer last season and that allowed the defense to stay on the sideline. In 2004 the defense was put in some bad spots but Spence’s ball control offense was a huge difference last season. I could be wrong, but with the best offensive line in many years and three outstanding tailbacks I believe this offense should improve in most aspects in 2006.
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