Spiller Taking It One Day at a Time

by - Correspondent -

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

CLEMSON --- After just two full practices, Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller has taken a more cliché approach to practice at the college level.

“I knew it would be tough,” the first-team Parade All-American said. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I just have to take it one day at a time.”

Spiller, who rushed for 5,511 yards and 85 touchdowns in his high school career at Union County High School in Lake Butler, Fla., is using this first week of camp to get acclimated to offensive coordinator Rob Spence’s high-tech offense.

“I’m just trying to learn how to read defenses and when to make my cuts,” he said.

In high school, Spiller didn’t have to do too much when it came to learning the offense. Most plays were geared to get him the ball and let his talent do the rest. The No. 1 rated running back out of the state of Florida rushed for 1,840 yards as a senior last fall and an amazing 30 touchdowns. He also added 249 yards as a receiver, while being selected to play in the U.S. Army All-Star game and the California-Florida All-Star game.

“He is a gifted athlete,” running backs coach Burton Burns said. “He is very athletic. He is everything we thought he would be.”

But Burns knows there is still a lot of evaluating left before his young talent can step out onto the field on game days.

“He is still learning the offense,” Burns said. “He is able to lean on his athletic ability until he just gets a little more comfortable with the system.”

In 2005, Clemson’s offense under Spence made great strides in becoming a more balanced and efficient one. The Tigers’ offense improved 89 yards per game last fall, the fourth best one-year turnaround in Clemson history, and good enough for the eighth best improvement among Division I teams.

Clemson finished No. 2 in the ACC in total offense and was the only school to finish in the top four in overall rushing and passing offense.

But despite those huge leaps the Tigers made offensively, there were still areas that need to improve and only recruiting could fill those needs.

Clemson had very few big plays in 2005 with the longest pass being 51 yards and the longest run coming at 65 yards. The person credited with the Tigers’ longest run in ’05 --- quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.

So Spence, Burns and head coach Tommy Bowden made a point in the recruiting season to bring in a player that would make defenses more honest, plus give them a two-headed monster in the backfield to go along with sophomore running back and ACC Rookie of the Year James Davis.

That person was C.J. Spiller.

“He is just such a speed player,” Burns said. “We have been looking for those home run type players. Until we can work him into the system, I’m thinking he is one of the guys that has the potential to hit that home run that we we’re talking about at some point in a game.”

Spiller says his expectations for this season are to just try to get out on the field and help the team any way he can.

“My expectations are to get mentally strong and help the team the best way that I can,” he said. “If that means helping the team from the sideline, then that is what I will do.”

Burns said he doubts Spiller will be contributing from the sideline.

“We are looking forward to him being out there,” Burns said. “There is no doubt we will figure out a few things to get him on the field. I think he is too good an athlete not too. He will get on the field in some kind of way.”

Right now, Burns and Spence want Spiller to study the play book at observe the things Davis and senior Reggie Merriweather do in practice. Burns says Spiller has a lot to learn in just a short amount of time so the main thing for him to do is learn the running plays.

“He just has to learn the plays within the system,” Burns said. “I think the runs will be a little easier for him to pick up. He has to learn some general things about the passing game and protections. You know those types of things.

“I think like any other freshman running back the running part is usually a quick adjustment from high school to college. We know what his limitations would be within the system right now so when you evaluate that guy you evaluate him on his ability and his talent.”

And that talent could have Spiller on the field with Davis as soon as the Florida Atlantic game on Sept. 2. Burns said the Tigers plan to use a two-back set at times, especially out of the shotgun. They ran this formation several times in 2005, but Davis was joined by a fullback, instead of another tailback.

“Last year we did it more with a tailback and fullback-type guys, this year it will be more two tailbacks in the game,” Burns said. “(Spiller) has to understand the blocking schemes. He doesn’t have to know them, but he has to understand them right now so he can put himself in better position to have some successful runs.”

So until then, Clemson’s first Parade All-American running back since 1989 will just take things one day at a time and absorb what he can from those players and coaches around him.

“This is a new year,” he said. “I’m a freshman now so I have to work like a freshman and build on my God given ability that he gave me.

“It is just like starting all over in high school. I’m just learning the system and the plays.”

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