Death Valley scrimmage insider: Defense and Clelin Ferrell shine
Clelin Ferrell was one of the standouts of Saturday's scrimmage

Death Valley scrimmage insider: Defense and Clelin Ferrell shine

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – You would expect that Clemson’s talented and experienced defense would be a little ahead of the offense this time of the year, and that was the case Saturday when the Tigers held a two-hour scrimmage in Death Valley.

It was the first major scrimmage of fall camp, and head coach Dabo Swinney said the coaches “turned ‘em loose” Saturday and will hold a situational scrimmage Wednesday.

From everything we heard, the defense finished ahead of the offense, and we were told that defensive end Clelin Ferrell had a particularly strong day, along with Christian Wilkins. Swinney said the defense just didn’t finish well, losing a goal line situation late.

*Swinney said that quarterback Kelly Bryant had one of the all-time best days for a quarterback Friday, but had his struggles Saturday. Tanner Muse caught a tipped ball for an interception. Swinney said Bryant made the right decisions and went where he was supposed to with the ball. He said that Bryant was expecting someone to cut the end, but they failed to make the cut and the ball was tipped.

One observer told us that Zerrick Cooper had the best day of the quarterbacks – his arm talent was on display – and that freshman running back Travis Etiennne looked strong against the backup defense. He broke a fourth-and-short for a 37-yard gain. He still has a ways to go in pass protection, however.

*Hunter Johnson threw a late touchdown pass, and Chase Brice connected with Tee Higgins on a long play.

*Swinney said he thinks there will be “strength in numbers” on the defense.

*On the injury front, left tackle Mitch Hyatt didn’t practice because of concussion protocol. If you remember, he was hit in the head with a football before practice this week – players were goofing around and he got hit in the right eye – and he’s been out since then. Other players who missed the scrimmage were Baylon Spector, Logan Rudolph, Marcus Edmond, Jalen Williams and Hyatt.

*Swinney said that Will Spiers won the punting battle today. The competition is likely to last through all of fall camp.

*Swinney said team isn’t defending their title. “We are attacking another one, that is what we say around here,” he said. “We are truly a new team.”

*Tony Elliott said they offense never really found a rhythm in Saturday’s scrimmage. The offense made some plays but was very inconsistent.

The offense made some “self-inflicted” errors that led to an underwhelming performance in the red zone.

At the end of the scrimmage, they worked on short yardage and goal line, and Elliott said the offense rebounded from their earlier mistakes and had “the best session we’ve had in a long time.”

*Elliott said he thought the quarterbacks were solid and made the right decisions, but they just didn’t execute.

*Overall, Elliott said it was a good start but there’s a lot they can learn from.

*The inconsistencies were a combination of the offense not executing and going against a really good defense.

*Elliott highlighted some of the guys who stood out in the scrimmage.

“I thought Diondre Overton made some plays in the passing game that we needed him to make,” Elliott said. “Cannon Smith had a big play for us. I thought Zerrick made some big throws. Carter Groomes got in and made a big play. Hunter threw a touchdown on a sprint out. I thought Travis Etienne ran the ball hard - not always knowing where he was going, but wherever he was going, he was going fast and he was going hard. I thought the centers were good with the snaps.”

*The offense faced a live pass rush for really the first time in the scrimmage, and Elliott said he was pleased with how the running backs pass protected. He said that all of the older guys did well, but Etienne - who comes from an option system in high school - has a lot to learn.

*Anchrum played a lot of left tackle with Mitch Hyatt out in concussion protocol. Anchrum did well, except for one pressure he gave up against Clelin Ferrell, who was a man on a mission according to Elliott.

*Brent Venables said the defense performed well but didn’t finish the way he wanted them to. He said there’s a lot of film to watch, players to evaluate, a lot to learn from, but it’s been a good camp up to this point.

“There were some good plays here and there, but I don’t know how they played overall,” Venables said. “I thought our defensive line, the first group really showed up. I didn’t see any glaring, big issues. There wasn’t anything like - this guy couldn’t be blocked or this guy had three picks. ”

Venables said there were a few defensive stand outs.

“Clelin has looked good. Austin Bryant is better than he’s ever been,” Venables said. “Christian Wilkins looked good. Tre Lamar has been noticeably better. I like how Van Smith and Tanner Muse have done. The corners have looked good at times and at other times, not so good. Ryan Carter is a versatile guy. Dorian O’Daniel has been good.”

*Venables said he saw freshman A.J. Terrell show up and make some plays in the scrimmage.

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