“Fan” is the shortened form of “fanatic.” Kinda like kids before Christmas, Brazil and I just had to go see what Santa had left for Clemson this year, and so it was that fellow fan Brazil, his two brothers, and Yours Truly hooked up and oozed on over to Spring Practice Saturday morning to eyeball the team. Exactly like an actual reporter, I pulled out the note pad I’d bought from Staples Saturday morning and started frantically scribbling notes…Brazil, on the other hand, had his hands full at first trying to keep the Clemson hostesses from dragging his kid brother off to Junior Day...they apparently thought he was a recruit. Shame, though. If Brazil's little bro' had just shucked and jived a little faster, he mighta gotten himself a scholarship offer....
To which Brazil say:
After watching the beat down of Tennessee on Jan 2nd, I did what any natural Clemson would do, I celebrated. Forty Five minutes later, I was looking at depth charts for next year. It’s pretty sad, but I'm sure there are other junkies out there that are nodding their heads thinking "man I know the feeling." During these couple of months I have run each position through my head trying to think of the questions that would have to be answered this Spring. As I made my way out to the practice field this morning, I came to my final conclusion. These are the questions, in order, that I needed to have answered:
1)Defensive Tackles: Minus Donnell Washington, would our DTs be able to perform to the level that they did last year? Would they be able to shut down the running lanes? Would they be able to take on blockers in order to free up our LBs to make tackles and our DEs to put pressure on the QB?
2)Receivers: We only returned one starter. Not only that we had lost our biggest playmaker. Would these receivers be able to get open? And who would be our next homerun hitter?
3)Backup QB: Charlie Whitehurst is Charlie Whitehurst, but who’ll carry the torch if he goes down? Charlie, after all, is only human and humans do get hurt.
4)Backup Cornerbacks: Our starting secondary is as good as it has been in quite a while, but last year we used at least four corners. Do we have the depth we need to pitch shutouts against the teams that run the 4-and-5 WR sets?
But as I started out this morning there was another question that worried me even more, Would the first day of Spring Practice be rained out? As I drove down a wet Highway 123 it certainly looked as if it would, but as we got into Clemson the rain stopped, and when we made the turn to go in front of Jervey it looked as if the sun shone down directly on the practice field, and what started out as a dark and dismal morning turned into a wonderful day for more reasons than just the weather.
Of course today was the first day of practice so coming in I knew that a lot of my questions wouldn't be answered until the pads were strapped on, but then again some were answered anyway.
Yeah, yeah, we’re football geeks. Sue us. But here’s what we saw….
The lineman were the hardest to assess but I did have a few impressions that stood out. First of all Cory Groover is a big rock. I didn't see an ounce of fat on him. He looked like an oversized linebacker. Shorter than I imagined but more athletic than I could have dreamed for a guy his size. My concern is that he looked a little smaller than I would have thought. Looking at him, it looked as if he would have tipped the scales at about 270 pounds but I could be mistaken. He looked plenty strong as his legs were really big but lean. My biggest concern is weather he will be able to hold his ground and establish the line of scrimmage.
Chris McDuffie is a lot more athletic than I had imagined. He seemed to fire out strong off the line and move up field quickly for a guy his size.
Eric Coleman will be the leader of this group. Seems as if that is understood. He is a very athletic looking guy, and he’s huge.
I walked away still wanting to know more about this group, but physically Groover Coleman and McDuffie looked very good. Trey Tate definitely needs to work hard to add mass this summer as he still looks very small to me.
I pretty much agree across the board. Coleman’s the monster of the group, physically, and everybody else is competing for the second starting gig in the rotation. Groover certainly looks the part…not all that big for a defensive tackle, but unholy athletic, and with so many muscles his skin looked like it was on too tight. He’s a specimen, but given USC’s train-wreck track record with JUCO’s, I’m reluctant to bank on him until he does some a-provin’. And McDuffie is one big boy who can surely move what his momma gave him. He’ll be a good ‘un.
I walked away feeling very good about this group. I was especially excited about the confidence that Kelvin Grant showed. He looked as if he had a swagger about him and an understanding that it is now his time to step up. Along with Currie I thought he ran the sharpest routes. He positions himself well when the ball is in the air, squaring his shoulders as he moves back to the ball if necessary. He is a lot quicker than I realized and showed the knack for making defenders miss, one reason that he will be used in the return game. Grant caught the ball cleanly and even showed the ability to run by defenders and get behind them. Today did nothing to make me want to pull off of my comments that Kelvin Grant will be the man to step up his game the most this year. He is the most talented WR on campus and will put up the numbers to show it this fall.
Airese Currie was in early season form today. He is the hardest guy to cover on the field. He runs sharp routes, makes his cuts on a dime. Today he impressed me catching the ball in traffic.
Of any player on the day, Curtis Baham surprised me the most: he’ s going to be an automatic solution for third down and short yardage. Baham caught numerous balls in traffic today, including the best catch of the day: with Miller draped on his back, he reached over Jamaal Fudge and made a spectacular grab. Baham is sure handed as they come. He is not as quick as one would like but is able to get open with good fundamental routes and will catch anything thrown in his area code.
Chansi Stuckey brought a huge smile to my face. He was a natural. He needs to polish off his routes a little but without a doubt has the ability to be our big hitter. He is going to produce from day one and along with Currie, Grant and Baham, he worked with the 1st team all day during 7 on 7s. He has superior quickness and is able to elude tacklers in the same way Hamilton did.
Other notes: Jefferson still needs another year in the weightroom. He needs to gain some serious weight and he seemed to be rattled when trying to catch the ball in live action. I read where someone wrote that Grant had dropped some balls, but actually it was Jefferson that dropped 2-3 balls in live drills. Michael Collins rounds off a lot of his routes and really lacks the quickness to get open on his own. He does posses excellent hands. McCloud could contribute some this year. He’s tall, and strong. He could become a dependable 2nd team guy. I came away feeling really good about our WRs. Of course there is only so much you can tell from one day of 7 on 7s, but they looked extremely good today.
Those predicting the demise of Clemson’s passing game are in for an unpleasant shock. Baham was the biggest: not only does he look awesome, but he’s also got the biggest ‘fro this side of Lenny Kravitz. He doesn’t have breakaway speed but he’s impossible to cover underneath, is fearless in traffic, and has the hands of Spiderman…he’s got the most-polished skills in the wideout corps, by a lot. The best physical talent, also by a lot, is Kelvin Grant. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s fluid, he’s athletic, and he makes it look awful easy. Airese Currie is Airese Currie: he’s the Roadrunner, whoever’s covering him is Wile E. Coyote. That’s our starting three, and it’s an awful good group. Maybe better than last year’s trio if Grant decides it’s time to play some football.
Chansi Stuckey turned my head too. He didn’t whiff much trying to catch the ball, but a lotta people whiffed trying to catch him, which isn’t half-bad for an alleged ex-QB. Michael Collins looks even bigger than his listed 6’4”, and has awful nice hands but is, admittedly, a little slow and stiff…I still like his size, and his concentration and intensity. And those looking for the next great Clemson sleeper, let your money ride on lucky #13. Gerald McCloud is a big, fast athlete who’s second on the team only to Grant in raw physical talent, and he could move up the depth chart like a cat with his tail on fire if the light comes on all the way.
Charlie didn’t miss a beat from last year’s finish. I don’t want say much about him because we already know, but he was sticking the ball on the money today between three defenders at times.
C.J. Gaddis had a little float on the long ball. Has the second strongest arm in my opinion as I thought Proctor struggled to throw the out. He dropped three snaps from center and struggled early throwing but really did a lot better in live action. Seems he turned it up a notch when going up against a defense. He is very athletic and the second best QB in my opinion.
Will Proctor seemed to lack the arm strength that you’d like to see from your QB but looked good throwing the ball on the run.
Overall, I hope we don’t have to go to the second team QB. These guys aren’t ready in my opinion. Gaddis will improve greatly with more snaps, the potential to be great is there. As far as the others go….no.
I totally agree. God look after and protect Charlie. Gaddis has a live arm and is a remarkable specimen and athlete but isn’t near ready, and Proctor looks good in flashes but is overly tentative on the trigger and seems to hang a lot of balls out late. The talent’s there, but if somebody doesn’t step up their game in Spring ball Tommy needs to take out a Lloyd’s of London policy on Whitehurst if he wants to sleep between now and August. Yowsah.
I don’t want to tell you how Fudge, Pugh and Miller look because we know about them. One guy that really looked good was Roy Walker. This kid is big and has good range. He had one pick today and really made a good return. Sergio Gilliam is great in coverage. He was unusual quick feet for a guy so tall (reminds me of Derrick Hamilton). He broke well on the ball, had one pick today during drills, and always seemed to be in good position to make the play. He needs at least 15-29 more pounds because he seemed to get pushed around by physical receivers.
One big positive for today was Kyle Browning. This guy seems to be making the transition to DB much better than Tye Hill did. After watching today I really think he can contribute. He was always in good position to make the play. He is cat quick and really showed a good break on the ball. This move could be better than first thought as I never saw him contributing at corner. In the end he could be competing for a 2nd team spot.
Robert Reese struggled today. He has a long way to go.
Tommy B will continue to whip people’s butts with his two-star recruits if he keeps pulling in guys like Roy Walker and Robert Reese. Walker can already play with the big boys, and could step in and replace Pugh tomorrow if he had to. Reese did, admittedly, get used pretty hard by the first-team receivers but he’s a big, physical corner who runs awfully well in drills, but Baham's clearly the wrong receiver to try to cover your first day standing in with the first team. And Sergio Gilliam needs to buff up but just sorta glues himself to his receiver like a praying mantis, and nobody had a lot of luck shaking him off. The surprise of the day was Kyle Browning, who made a hairy nuisance of himself. The clingy little fellow was notably hard to get away from, which was more than a bit surprising considering that this was, you know, his first day as a corner and all.
That about covers Day 1. But fear not: the Amateurs will return, when wives, bosses, and of course, TigerNet allows.