Posted by Chip Patterson
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Clemson, who opens spring camp Friday, March 4.
Will Clemson's offseason moves (coaching, recruiting, and otherwise) result in immediate improvement from 2010?
When the Clemson Tigers finished their 2010 campaign with a 31-26 loss to South Florida, there were plenty of frustrated fans in Death Valley scratching their head. After all, it was only a season earlier that Clemson won the Atlantic Division and took Georgia Tech down to the wire in the ACC Championship Game. Certainly there was expected to be some drop-off, but not the first sub-.500 finish since 1998. Head coach Dabo Swinney felt his seat warm up a little after the Meineke Bowl loss, and he acted swiftly to make changes and look towards the future.
The Tigers finished near the bottom of the ACC in most major offensive categories. Swinney could have blamed the deficiencies on injuries (starting quarterback Kyle Parker and running back Andre Ellington both missed time in 2010), but with Parker departing for Major League Baseball now was the best time to make a key change on the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier was fired, and Swinney reached out to Tulsa offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
Morris' arrival in Clemson is one of the main points of interest heading into spring practice. In 2010, Tulsa's offense ranked 13th in the nation in passing yards, while sitting at 15th nationally for rushing yards per game. They were the only school in the nation to rank in the top 15 in both categories, and their 505.6 total offensive yards per game ranked fifth in the country.
All of this is welcome news to Tigers fans, who saw too many close games slip away because of Clemson's inability to put points on the board. Six of their seven losses last season were by 9 points or less, most notably a 3-point loss to Florida State and 6-point loss to Boston College. Different results in both of those games could have changed Clemson's fortunes in the Atlantic Division.
Morris runs a fast-paced offensive style that stretches the field and relies on a strong running game to set up the deep ball. The "smash-mouth spread," as he calls it, does not include a lot of the pitch-and-catch screen game that has been prevalent in the last couple seasons at Clemson. This is very welcome news to quarterback Tajh Boyd, who is fired up about leading this new offense in 2011.
Boyd is the only scholarship quarterback returning from 2010, and the success of Morris' offense will begin and end in the sophomore's hands. The Hampton, VA native saw limited action filling in for the banged-up Kyle Parker, but that was a different offensive scheme. Not only does Boyd feel confident with a year of experience under his belt, but he appears to feel pretty comfortable about the new system.
“I think it could be a perfect fit,” Boyd said recently referring to Morris' system. “It’s keeping defenses on the edge. I’m trying to become the most versatile player I can to keep this offense explosive. Just having that extra threat would make this offense go, as you can see from all the spread teams (like) Oregon, Auburn, Texas.”
But Swinney could not spend his offseason neglecting the defense that helped deliver another bowl berth to the Tigers. Things worked out pretty well in 2010, leading the ACC in scoring defense at only 18.8 points per game. But Clemson only returns 6 starters from that unit, and has said goodbye to big names like Da'Quan Bowers and DeAndre McDaniel. So Swinney got to work as soon as 2010 was in the book, assembling the next crop of defensive playmakers to bring to Clemson.
Swinney put in his work late, and finished with a start-studded recruiting class that MaxPreps ranked as the No. 5 class in the nation. On National Signing Day, Clemson's defense received a major upgrade with the commitments of Stephone Anthony (LB, No. 5 overall prospect) and Tony Steward (LB, No. 7 overall prospect). But even aside from the two big names, Swinney identified and filled in most of Clemson's biggest needs moving forward. From a pair of highly rated wide receivers for the new offense (Charone Peake and Sammy Watkins) to an Oregon de-commit that hopes to be the next great Clemson defensive end (Roderick Byers), Swinney recruited and signed another class of "his guys." His confidence in the program suggests that Swinney's big offseason was just another part of his big plan, rather than simply a reaction to the poor finish in 2010.
“Come this fall, we have laid the foundation for what we want this program to become,” Swinney said on National Signing Day. “All the sophomores and freshmen on this football team this fall will be guys that we’ve recruited since January of ’09.
“This staff has worked really hard and has done it the right way. Before you can have a harvest, so to speak, you have plow, you’ve got to plant, and you’ve got to water. That’s what we’ve done for two years.”
But talk can only do so much for a coach at a program like Clemson. The Tiger fans demand to be competitive annually, at a bare minimum. But with the way Clemson has started 2011, the expectations will be high for the fall. Whether those expectations are fair or not never matters in big-time college football, they just need to be met.
Meeting those expectations begins on Friday with the start of spring practice. It might be a little rocky at first, with new coaches, players, and for some, positions. But when the Tigers rub Howard's Rock on their way into the stadium on September 3, the hot lights will be on Swinney. After making so much noise in the offseason, fans will want to see results.
Clemson will hold their annual spring game on April 9
Quotes via Greg Wallace, OrangeandWhite.com
Click here for the rest of the Spring Practice Primers