Head Coach Tommy Bowden and his staff sealed the final finishing touches on a pretty good recruiting class earlier this month by securing the signature of prized running back C.J. Spiller. Spiller, surprisingly, chose the Tigers over Florida when all indications during the recruiting process was that Spiller would stay close to home and his roots.
The inking of Spiller assures one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt. Clemson is now a running football team that will pass to open up the run. To be fair, that is basically what Clemson was last year as James Davis emerged as the most talented tailback in Tiger Town since the late 1980’s. Now that Spiller has signed on to join the fun, expect Rob Spence to lean heavily on the running game all year long to complete what has been a most remarkable transformation.
Just three years ago, the entire Clemson offensive philosophy was built around spreading the field and creating mismatches for our talented wide receivers and running lanes for our minimally talented running backs. In 2006, you may see the complete opposite. Spence’s use of tight ends, sometimes two at one time, is bringing the players closer to the middle of the field. The philosophy behind this lies with the talented running backs and giving them blockers so they can run to daylight. But maybe more important to this philosophical shift than the talent at running back is the talent on the offensive line. Bowden’s dedication three and four years ago to upgrade the talent in the trenches is now paying itself in full as the Tigers will trot out one of the ACC’s most experienced (and possibly talented) offensive lines come September.
It is a transformation to the running game that many old folks like me cherish.
The only thing that bothered me from this recruiting season was the emphasis on Spiller and his signing day surprise taking the attention away from a bunch of good football players that had promised their signing with Clemson earlier in the year. I’m guilty of this over-exposure on Spiller as well as evidenced in my singling him out above.
And while McDaniel, Butler, Sapp, Maxwell, and Cumbie don’t roll off the tongue as easily as Spiller, in the end the quality of the depth of this recruiting class will pay more dividends than the single signing of Spiller.
Most of the complaining about the schedule, upon its release last week, seemed to stem from the length between the start of the season and the open date as well as the trip to Blacksburg on only four days rest. While coaches love the open date to gather the troops, the realty is that open dates can be a benefit or a curse. Many times teams regroup, heal wounds, and put together a great game plan and execute to perfection with the extra week of preparation. Other times open dates cause a huge dud when the team returns to the field.
The trip to Blacksburg, on a Thursday night with four days rest, was going to be a difficult challenge regardless. Clemson could have caught a break by playing Tech early in the season as they broke in a new quarterback and running back. But given the date of the game, four days rest versus six days seems inconsequential to me. Keep in mind; Tech will be on four days rests as well.
Overall, the schedule is tough. But every year the schedule is destined to be tough in this new ACC. There is nothing in the release of this schedule that makes me feel our chances of making a run at the Atlantic Division are any less than I did before the schedule came out. It is a cliché, but at some point you have to strap on the helmet and play the games and win the games. Worrying about when and where you play people is the kind of things bad teams worry about.
Spring Practice Watch
Many will focus on the progress of Will Proctor at the quarterback position this spring, but I’m not one of them. Will has proven to me on multiple occasions that he will have, at the minimum, a good year as the signal caller for the Tigers.
There are two areas that deserve much more attention and concern from Clemson faithful as spring practices gets underway in a few weeks. The first area is at wide receiver, where consistent playmakers are still desired from a cast of receivers that seem to have a decent potential of playmaking ability. Chansi Stuckey and Aaron Kelly proved last year, at various times each, that they can be a dominant force at wide receiver. Both also showed they could completely disappear from a game, not to be heard from until the next week.
Tyler Grisham and Rendrick Taylor had some relative success as true freshmen, stepping in admirably in a situation where both could have benefited from a redshirt year had the offense more depth at receiver. La’Donte Harris proved dependable at times as an underneath threat as well. It is not out of the realm of expectations that those three will improve, giving Clemson five solid receivers to start the year. Beyond that, there is little to nothing on the roster as far as challengers unless you count Andrew Diomonde or a true freshman from this recruiting class. This is an area where you hope for no injuries and plenty of improvement from players who played last year and a couple who did not.
The other area of concern is the secondary, where Tye Hill leaves a big hole at cornerback for the second straight year. After being thrown into the fire, Duane Coleman proved dependable as he earned more and more playing time and experience as the year went on. Some shuffling may take place in the secondary and the freshman just signed will certainly get a look, but cornerback is a concern, maybe a major concern, as spring practice nears.
Jack Leggett is poised to have one of his best teams as Clemson’s coach when the Tiger baseball team takes the field. All reports from inside the baseball camp are extremely positive, as most of the pieces to the puzzle seem to be falling into place.
Clemson returns 22 letterman overall, with the only position player not back being DH/pitcher Kris Harvey. All American second baseman Taylor Harbin and shortstop Stan Wideman give Clemson stability in the middle of the field. Brad Chalk brings his .350 batting average along with Andy D’Alessio’s 15 home runs to give the Tigers some punch in the lineup. Tyler Colvin leads all returnees with 12 steals last year, but base stealing may be an area of weakness for this team (at least on paper in the preseason).
Stephen Faris leads a pitching lineup that has all the makings of a rotation that can go deep in tournament play. Jason Berken, Josh Cribb, and David Kopp will align with Faris, all with the potential to chew up a ton of innings pitched as the season goes on.
After a couple of years where Clemson had to over-achieve to get to postseason play, this team may be poised to win a regular season ACC Title and challenge for bigger come May and June. The Tigers were never ranked higher than #13 last year, but Clemson already is Top 5 in all polls at the start of this season and the Tigers could spend a bit of time at #1 if they get off to a quick start.
All of this should quiet those few that still whisper about whether Jack Leggett is the right man for this job. Like that isn’t an obvious “YES”!
All in all, with the exception of a few frustrating nights watching Clemson basketball struggle, it is a great time to be a Clemson fan as all else seems to be falling completely into place.