The Forgotten Stars
Clemson fans are extremely giddy about the upcoming season and rightfully so. Each of the coordinators now has a full season, two springs, and two preseason camps under their belts. With the exception of the incoming freshmen, everyone should be adjusted to the newness of the schemes.
Experience is the offense’s greatest strength, most notably along the line.
All five starters return to form what may be Clemson’s best unit since the days of Danny Ford.
I think this is extremely important not because the Tigers will, for all intents and purposes, be breaking in a new quarterback, but because the offensive front is, and likely always will be, the most overlooked unit of any team. Most offensive coordinators can convert an average line and a passel of great skill players into a unit that will fill highlight reels and win some games along the way. But give me a great line with maybe one or two above average skill guys and I’ll take my chances.
Don’t believe me? Look at the Tiger teams of the 80’s. Sure, there were backs like Flowers, Flagler, Allen, and Austin that weren’t your run of the mill players, but they also weren’t first-team all-Americans. Rodney Williams became the winningest quarterback in Clemson history during that era, but I don’t think you’ll find anyone who will argue he was extremely gifted.
Defense won most of those games for Clemson during the 80’s, you say.
Maybe so, but let’s not forget it was the offense that, despite the three-and-outs and fullback dives many folks remember, kept the defense in the game with a solid ground attack that routinely generated time consuming drives which rested the defense.
My point is Will Proctor doesn’t have to set records. James Davis and C.J.
Spiller don’t have to be this year’s version of LenDale White and Reggie Bush. Rendrick Taylor doesn’t have to crush defensive backs and leap tall buildings in single bounds.
That is, of course, if the line lives up to the expectations.
So if things are going well this season and the skill guys are getting all the publicity, don’t forget the guys who really make it happen. Not that they expect or even want a piece of the spotlight because they aren’t the egomaniacs many of the “stars” are. In fact, lineman are used to being trashed when things sour and forgotten when the train is rolling. Just take a few plays each quarter or half to focus on one or two linemen and I think you’ll have a newfound respect for all they do.
One rule change I haven’t heard mentioned very much is the reduction in the height of kicking tees. This year they will be one inch rather than the two-inch tees used in the past. The logic behind the change is it will reduce the number of kicks deep into or out of the end zone, which will lead to more returns.
Another rule that has been widely discussed is the change in clock management. The clock will now start when the ball is kicked, whereas in the past it didn’t begin until the returner exited the end zone. The referees will also start the clock when the ball is marked ready for play after a change of possession.
The NCAA, in their infinite wisdom, elected to enact these changes in an effort to shorten the length of the games. Some have estimated it could mean as many as ten to fifteen fewer plays per game, if not more. I think the NCAA got this one wrong. Fans don’t want to see fewer plays; they want to see fewer TV breaks.
I actually think these time changes, along with a halftime that has been shortened to twenty minutes, will create more havoc for fans. Restroom breaks and visits to the concession stands will become even more hectic for those trying not to miss any of the action.
As for penalties, infractions that occur on live kicks (punts) can now be accepted and added to the end of the play. Say, for instance, the punting team doesn’t have enough men on the line of scrimmage at the snap and the return unit picks up ten yards. Instead of accepting the penalty, which in the past meant they would have elected to have another punt, they can accept the penalty and take the extra five yards at the end of the return.
The hype surrounding Jacoby Ford has become almost comical. There are those that would probably take him in a race with a cheetah and fully expect him to set a new land speed record while at Clemson.
There’s no doubt he is fast, possibly the fastest player to ever suit up for the Tigers. Unfortunately, speed isn’t everything in the game of football.
If so, some of the greatest sprinters in the history of the world would have parlayed their talents into many more millions of dollars in the NFL.
You cannot just send him on fly routes all day long expecting bombs on a consistent basis. Those are extremely low percentage throws regardless of speed. Safeties in a two-deep zone will rarely let a guy like Ford beat them unless they bite on a great play fake. Even then, the angles and the speed of those athletes usually allow them to recover.
Ford can and likely will have his fair share of big plays during his career.
He’s not one of those sprinters-turned-football players trying to learn the game. He’s a football player who comes in with high praise from the staff and his prep school coaches.
Fans just need to be realistic. Look for his big plays to come in the return game and on screens. His speed is much more effective with the ball in his hands as opposed to trying to get it to him forty yards down the field.
I recently bumped into an official that called games when I played. We were discussing the changes mentioned above when I asked him to give me the most obscure rule he’s ever seen called. He responded, “Without a doubt it has to be the one point safety.”
I honestly didn’t know whether or not to believe him until he began explaining. Apparently the offense can score a point for a safety.
Let’s say a defender makes an interception or recovers a fumble and runs into his end zone without being forced in by his momentum. He dances around but is eventually tackled before returning to the field of play. The offense is awarded a point.
I doubt very few have seen such an occurrence, much less heard of it.
Odds and Ends
Kudos to the NCAA for allowing freshmen to report for the second session of summer school starting last year. It really helps the kids get acclimated to college life because so much is thrown at them when the fall session begins. Ask anyone at Vickery Hall and they’ll tell you the folks in Indianapolis finally got one right.
Michael Palmer has quietly been the biggest surprise during camp. The freshman tight end has caught everything thrown his way while battling a hand injury. The coaches really like him, but the biggest thing going for him is he has earned the respect of his teammates. Many are expecting big things.
Jimmy Maners has drastically reduced his release time. His times last year were routinely 2.2 seconds or more. That number has dropped to anywhere between 1.9 and 2.1 seconds. It may not seem like a huge difference, but
0.2 to 0.3 of a second is the difference between a good punt and a blocked punt at this level. If he can consistently keep it around 1.9 seconds, look for him to be the punter.