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It is here. Real football. On paper that is. Phase three of pre-season football is here. As the listeners of my radio show have understood for a couple of years, there are five phases of pre-season football for the fans.
Phase I is recruiting. This phase used to really heat up in December but still with official visits and signing day we think it is the first phase of the pre-season.
Phase II is spring practice. This stage ends across the country by late April. We entered the next phase last week. This is the release of pre-season magazines. I purchased my first of the 300 I will buy over the weekend.
Phase IV is one that most fans do not recognize. This is the release of EA Sports NCAA football video game each year.
Finally. Phase V is the pre-fall practice in August. These are the dog days of two-a-days. This is where you really learn more as a fan but your fingers are crossed like a NASCAR driver at Daytona or Talladega because you are trying to avoid the big one.
The current phase is also where we begin to compare our rankings of players and positions with the magazines. On my radio we start this phase with quarterbacks then take a new position each week. On the blog we will take Clemson on Monday, the ACC on Tuesday, Wednesday SEC and National rankings, Thursday we look at Clemson recruiting at the position and Friday we still publish your e-mails.
So lets get to it. Will Proctor is set to take over the reigns of the Clemson offense. I can’t remember a player that came into his senior season where we knew so much about but actually knew so little about him. Let me explain.
Going into last spring Proctor had played only six plays in his Clemson career at quarterback. He had actually played 11 plays at wide receiver. Proctor was 0-3 passing in his first two seasons under center. However, Rob Spence was hired as the new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator and little did I know that meant great things for Proctor.
In his first spring under Spence, Proctor outplayed Charlie Whitehurst. He set a spring game record with 275 yards passing when he completed 18 of his 23 attempts. In other scrimmages he went 13-24 for 121 yards and 15-24 for 173 yards.
All of that was great but it was still spring and Proctor was still the back up. That too changed in the season opener. You could make a case that the Texas A&M game was the most important on the schedule. I know it was a non-conference game but confidence was needed. That confidence came when Proctor was forced into the game. The Orlando, Fl native went 2 for 4 passing for 28 yards and carried the ball three times for 18 yards. More importantly he helped engineer a fourth quarter drive that led to the last second field goal in the 25-24 win over the Aggies.
Proctor did not see action the next five games but went 3 of 6 for 52 yards and his first touchdown through the air.
It would have been hard to imagine the staff wanting someone other than Whitehurst to start a game in his senior year but that is what happened. Some on the staff felt Proctor was better suited to run this offense than Whitehurst. Proctor got his first start against Duke and went 13 of 21 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He carried the ball 11 times for 31 yards and helped lead the offense to a 49-20 win.
This past spring he had a good campaign until the spring game. But something else happened. Proctor took over the team and turned into a leader. This became his team. He is the one that will lead the off-season voluntary workouts.
Proctor is a very good athlete. He moves his feet well. Spence’s offense was made for him. They will roll him out and get him on the edge. Spence will utilize the underneath passing game and not put too much pressure on Proctor. Perhaps the most important thing about the new starting quarterback for the Tigers is that he understands that he does not have to win the game. He knows the real weapons are those around him. He is asked not to lose the game instead of win it. Proctor had no problem handing the ball to James Davis in that final drive against A&M and knows it will happen again a bunch this season.
Cullen Harper had an impressive spring. Harper is another good athlete that has more physical talent as a pure quarterback than Proctor. His only action so far was against Duke where he went 1 for 2 for 15 yards. Harper is a very capable back up that only needs experience. Much like Proctor the year before, Harper spent the spring gaining the confidence of his teammates. Also much like Proctor, Harper has really benefited from Spence. He is a much better quarterback now than he was this time last year.
Tribble Reese was a highly thought of signal caller coming out of high school. He red-shirted and did not play last season. He is behind Harper in the battle to be the back up but still has a chance. Reese is starting to understand the sense of urgency.
Michael Wade is an incoming freshman who reminds me of Proctor. He is a good athlete who could develop into a solid quarterback under Spence.
The real beauty of this system is Spence. His quarterbacks play well. No matter who is under center they have succeeded. The coaching and the system are the real stars. Spence has his quarterbacks prepared each week. At Toledo his quarterbacks performed despite a lack of experience. In 2001 Taveras Bolden set the MAC record for completion percentage (68.7%). The next year his quarterback led the offense to 472 yards per game, which was fifth in the country. In 2003 Bruce Gradkowski was second in the country with a 71.3 completion percentage.
In summary, Clemson quarterbacks will play well this season. There is not much experience but you have to count Spence as the experience factor.
Clemson To Go with Zocchi
P.J. Zocchi looked fantastic against Charleston last week. He pitched so well that Jack Leggett has decided to start him against Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament. Interesting decision but I think the right one. Clemson is going to Jacksonville to win the entire tournament and this allows more rest and gets Faris, Cribb and Berken later in the tournament.
Allow me a couple of non-Clemson thoughts:
*I understand the Barbaro deal. This is a huge sports story in my mind because of the drama and the emotion. Millions of people are thinking of the horse today and there can’t be too many times where an animal has been in so many prayers. Some of you may think this is nothing but hype but I disagree. I get this and can be counted on as one who continues to pray for Barbaro. In a world where Nancy Grace is a TV star and reality TV rules, I think real emotion can be felt in this deal. I would never be mistaken for a PETA protestor but all in on this one. Go Barbaro!
*If Michael Barrett and A.J. Pierzynski can duke it out right behind home plate then why can’t we have a pay-per-view with Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth. Lets get it on!
*Sopranos rule. What a get episode. Can’t wait for the season finale.
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