Napier talks about life after C.J. Spiller

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier, who is entering his second spring as the man with his hand on the reigns of the Clemson offense, sat down with the media late last week to discuss the upcoming spring practices.

One of the first questions Napier was asked was how you go about replacing a back like C.J. Spiller, and Napier’s answer was simple: you don’t.

"I don't think you do, “Napier said. “I think C.J. is one of those guys that are few and far between. It'll be one of those things 25-30 years from now we'll still be talking about. I do think we have some young, talented kids who are capable, who are up to the challenge. Just like any year, it's a process of getting these guys ready to go play.

"Obviously we're in the first couple of phases [of the off-season]. We're in the second phase of our off-season with coach Swinney's All-in drills. You have to figure out who the most talented kids are, who the most dependable kids are. Then we'll give those guys opportunities. They're going to get their chance. That's what they were recruited here to do. They're excited about the opportunity."

It was pointed out that because of the return capabilities that Spiller possessed, the Tigers were able to take advantage of a short field on several occasions, and Napier was asked if it would take a huge adjustment to get the offense ready for longer drives.

"Starting field position is a huge statistic,” Napier said. “We're fortunate in that we have a great special teams coordinator in coach [Andre] Powell and what he's been able to do. We have gotten some significant returns. We do have some formidable guys who are going to be capable as return guys, not maybe as recognized or as well-known at this point.

"I think the emphasis will still be on creating positive field position, taking a lot of pride in doing your job and the guys who are returning. We've signed guys who have done that in the past but maybe haven't gotten the opportunities here because of who we've had on the roster with C.J. and Jacoby. We'll still try to create a shorter field just like every team will each week. The big play, the return that goes the distance, there won't be as many of those. But I do see a short field as a possibility."

It has been speculated that Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker could leave the Tigers in a lurch if he decides to go pro in baseball after this season, and Napier was asked if he saw Parker under center for the Tigers in September.

"I think you try to put yourself in his position and his family's position, “Napier said. “I think, in my mind, I anticipate maybe after next year's football season, that's when the true decision may come. I think it would be a shocker to me if he didn't play football this year. And you know, Kyle enjoyed the experience of playing. I think he enjoys the game of football. I think he likes playing. Where is his ultimate best opportunity to play professional sports, football or baseball, who knows?

“Ultimately that’s a decision he has to make. I think he is a mature enough kid who understands the big picture. I think if that was a thought, he'd talk with us about it. And he hasn't brought that up. So we're planning on Kyle Parker being our quarterback next year."

Parker loses his top three receivers in Jacoby Ford, Michael Palmer and Spiller, and the feature back in Spiller, so Napier was asked if more of the offensive burden would fall on Parker’ shoulders this season, and Napier said that he thinks everything starts up front.

"I think everything starts with your front guys and your ability to rush the ball each week,” he said. “If you can consistently dictate the tempo of the game up front then you're very capable. Looking at our post-season quality control, we averaged 6.9 yards a rush after the open date last year. Our front guys deserve a lot of that credit. The coaching staff there, moving the lineup, those guys up front really improved each week. The burden will always fall on the front guys at Clemson. If we're going to be good on offense, it'll be because we're capable of rushing the ball and dictating the game from that standpoint.

"I think KP's decision making, his ability to create some plays with his feet, he'll continue to be the same type player and we'll play a similar brand of ball from the beginning of the season as we did later in the year. He's obviously a year older and has a lot of game experience and practice. He knows what is expected now. He'll be a better player and we'll be able to do more things with him mentally.”

Talented freshman quarterback Tajh Boyd opened a lot of eyes working on the scout team last season, and Napier was asked where he sees Boyd fitting in this season.

"This will be his first true opportunity to get in there and compete with the best of the best that we have here,” Napier said. “He's going to benefit from Kyle missing some practices. There's going to be four practices maybe where Kyle won't be here and Tajh will be with the first team. Mike Wade is a guy who's obviously very serviceable and well-respected among our players. He gets in 30-something snaps a game on special teams. He's going to try to learn some things defensively for us, a nickel role and some work at safety.

"With Tajh, it's his time to be a sponge and soak in a lot of things. The best thing to happen to him was him red-shirting. He's got four years to play. I think he's getting in position for this to be his football team one day. This is a huge step in that direction. Ultimately it's going to be about his attention to detail, his preparation, and his work ethic.”

Napier then added that Boyd’s work ethic is second to none.

“We know he’s very talented. There aren't many young men in the country who can throw the ball like he can throw it and possess the physical tools he has. His work ethic and ability to stay driven and not get complacent and realize that he has a lot to learn will dictate how good of a player he can be. This spring is obviously a big step in the right direction. There's no kid that will work harder than him. He's very well-respected among our players and our staff.”

Napier then cautioned that it will take Boyd time to learn the ins and outs of the Clemson offense after a season of running opposing offenses.

"Tajh is a guy that will not put the cart before the horse,” he said. “We have to teach the kid our offense. He has a lot of reps in front of him. How well he goes about that in terms of retaining information practice to practice making the most out of each day will dictate where he's at when it's time to play this fall. For me to say where he's going to be next fall? There are just so many things for him to do between now and then. But he’s the kind of young man you like being around every day."

Given the fact that the Tigers return their starting quarterback, four starting offensive lineman and two talented running backs that saw extensive time last season in Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper, Napier was asked if the offense would focus on trying to find playmakers at wide receiver during the spring.

The Tigers lost their top three receivers to graduation, and Xavier Dye is the leading returner with just 14 catches.

"I think it's make or break time for some of those guys, to some degree,” Napier said. “It's their time. Ultimately some of the younger players who have shown flashes, this is their chance to get the majority of the reps. Ultimately, they have to earn the trust of this staff and prove that they're capable and dependable. When we get to the in-season preparation, who we plan with each week is based on who we feel we can count on and depend on. There will be a lot of guys competing and battling. I think we do have plenty of players there who will be ready when it's time to play this fall.

"Two guys in particular that I think have played a role that are seniors for us: Xavier Dye and Terrance Ashe. Ashe in particular is the leader of that group. He's the well-respected veteran with a great work ethic. When he speaks, they listen. Xavier had his bumps in the road but proved to be a guy who learned his lesson to some degree last year and emerged as a valuable asset with the plays he made and the effort he made.”

And what does he look for from Bryce McNeal, the wide receiver who red-shirted in 2009?
"I think Bryce is someone who's gotten me excited in terms of watching him in his red-shirt role, the way he grew up a bit. The ability he had to go make some plays. A lot of times there is a learning curve in there for a young skill player. But when you say do this and a kid can cut it loose and not think as much, that's what he was able to do. That was impressive. This is our time to teach him all the concepts he has to learn, where to line up and where he fits in, reading coverages, routes, whatever the case may be. From there we need to get his confidence level up.

"Guys play their best football when they're not thinking, when they know what to do. Then they're just competing and trying to go win the game. It's our job to mentally get him up to speed and where he needs to be. As we get down the stretch of our season we'll need him to emerge and hopefully be a guy that will produce for us. Whether he does that will be up to him. Hopefully he can do that."

The Tigers signed several talented players in the recent recruiting class, and Napier was asked if he sees any help from the group of incoming freshman this season.

"If I had to say any of this freshman crew is coming in and will play, I'd say tight end right away. Both guys there because we've got such low numbers there. At receiver. All three are local guys. They're capable of being around more during spring, in meetings and in the summer. The learning curve is maybe a little less for them. In the offensive line, Kalon is a mid-year guy. He's going to go through the complete off-season program and spring, so he may be further along. He could possibly earn an opportunity to play."

Clemson receivers coach Jeff Scott also met with the media, and Scott addressed the receivers question by saying that he feels like he has seven receivers that can play right now, as opposed to last season, when he had only four.

Dye leads Brandon Clear and Brandon Ford at the 'X.' Marquan Jones leads redshirt freshman Bryce McNeal at 'A', which was Jacoby Ford’s slot last season is the position used most on trick plays, reverses, and Ashe leads Jaron Brown at 'Z.'

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