Tigers run through a controlled scrimmage in front of fans

by - Senior Writer -
Boyd showed signs of getting better during Wednesday's controlled scrimmage

CLEMSON – The Clemson Tigers ran through a controlled scrimmage Wednesday afternoon in what head coach Dabo Swinney called a “situation” scrimmage.

The scrimmage was open to the public, and there were some spirited plays, but Swinney said Wednesday was all about trying to make the team better.

“Today was about trying to create a bunch of situations that, as we’ve studied quality control, that we felt like was relevant to having a good season,” Swinney said. “It’s all about building toward Saturday, when we will get out of the way and let them play.

“One of the things that we studied was that offensively, if we can get four yards on first down, we have a high percentage of getting another first down. On the flip side, defensively, we have a high percentage, if we can hold them under that, then we are going to get them off the field.”

Swinney had the team play a “plus minus four” contest that consisted of six plays with a tiebreaker. A few of the situations worked on were first down plays, a series of second downs, third-and-longs, and then a situation that Swinney used to get the attention of both the offense and the defense.

Swinney called out for a third-down-and-three, in two-down territory, and initially screamed at the second team offense that he called on them to strart because they “have to get better.” Swinney then got in the ears of the defense, and mentioned that Georgia Tech made a living converting third downs in the ACC Championship Game, and screamed at his defense to “get them off the field.”

“You stop them, you win,” Swinney said. “The offense has to get a first down to have a chance to win, just like that situation we had with Georgia Tech. So that was a good competitive situation, and we made sure of that because we wanted to hit all of those areas. Today was a good situation practice.”

Swinney said he was pleased with the play of the wide receivers as well as the play of quarterback Kyle Parker, who had some high throws during the scrimmage but also showed off an improved touch on passes in the flat, curl routes and out routes.

Swinney also said he was looking to see the first-teams and second-teams get closer in terms of competition.

“There is some separation right now,” he said. “We have to get the second teams up to speed a little more. But that’s what spring is about. And we want to be more disciplined, and be a smarter football team and eliminate the things that beat us, like missed tackles, missed assignments, dropped balls and jumping offsides. Those are the things that beat you. Today was a good day, and I am pleased with the spirit of the team, but we still have a lot of work to do the rest of the spring.”

Some observations and notes from the scrimmage:

*Middle linebacker Corico Hawkins snagged a tipped Kyle Parker pass and returned it for a touchdown, a highlight for a linebacking group looking to find playmakers. With the way the defensive line and secondary are looking at this point, even early in spring, if defensive coordinator Kevin Steele can find two or three playmakers at the linebacking spot, it could be a special defense.

*Cornerback Marcus Gilchrist intercepted a Parker pass, intended for Marquan Jones, in the end zone, and showed flashes of regaining comfort as he switches between that position and the safety position he played last season. Corner Coty Sensabaugh, fighting for a starting spot, also made several nice plays, including a pass broken up in the end zone that showcased his jumping ability.

*Parker threw a nice quick out route to Marquan Jones, a pass he struggled with many times last season, with one of the nicer touch passes of the afternoon.

*Fullback Chad Diehl makes his presence known all over the field. Diehl is 265 pounds, heavier than last season, but was a beast blocking. He has almost no fat as he added muscle in the off-season, and with the offense running a lot of short passes and power plays, was in on the action a good bit. He caught one pass and lowered his pads under linebacker Spencer Shuey, and it appeared to knock the breath from Shuey, who is no lightweight in his own right.

*Kicker Richard Jackson looked the best of the kickers, and said he feels like taking time off from kicking has actually helped his game. He said that he started kicking early last spring, kicked all summer, had the competition in fall camp, and then kept kicking right through the bowl game. He said at one point he was averaging 20 live kicks a day for 20 weeks straight, and decided to take some time off following the bowl game, and returned to kicking just a few weeks ago. He looks fresher, and has hit some nice kicks so far this spring, including a 43-yarder on Wednesday that split the uprights and caused him to skip over to Swinney for a high-five.

*Non-scholarship quarterback Donny McElveen, the grandson of legendary high school coach John McKissick, had scholarship offers from East Carolina and Central Florida but elected to come to Clemson. He struggled with his passing lanes at times on Wednesday, and had one batted pass returned for a touchdown [by Quandon Christian], but redeemed himself late in the scrimmage when he threw a beautiful ball to Jaron Brown, a deep pass down the right sideline, that Brown took into the end zone.

*The defensive line is going to be nasty. Just nasty. There was really no discernible difference between the first and second-team defensive lines, and a couple of players had outstanding scrimmages. Rennie Moore blew up one third-down play, hitting Boyd before he could make a handoff, and Andre Branch had a couple of “touch sacks” and put consistent pressure on the Tiger signal callers.

*Brown, who caught the pass from McElveen on the bomb, also showed good hands on a skinny post that Tajh Boyd threw like a bullet, one of several nice grabs for Brown. Boyd also impressed me on that play, because he had wildly overthrown an open receiver on the previous play, but had the confidence to come back and stick the ball into Brown on the next play.

*C.J. Spiller and Ricky Sapp were present at the scrimmage, and Spiller said he had no doubts that Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper were going to be outstanding running backs. “Those guys are really good, and I believe they are going to have an better season than people think.”

*OVERHEARD - Ron Cherry’s crew officiated the scrimmage, and the question was asked why Cherry, not a favorite of Clemson fans, was at Clemson. I overheard one person say, “Because Karl Hess wasn’t available.”

*Swinney also had a note about Parker, who has hit 10 homers or the Tiger baseball team. Swinney said that the Clemson Sports Information office is still trying to verify the stat, but that if Parker hits five more homers this season, he will be in a class all by himself. That would give Parker 20 touchdown passes and 15 homers in the same season. The closest found to this point is former Southern Cal great Rodney Peete, who had 21 touchdowns and 12 homers in the late 1980's.

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