Monday, August 2, 2010

season preview: Clemson

We truck on with season previews today - alphabetically, as always - by studying the Clemson Tigers. And I should also add that I've been horribly remiss in not yet pointing you in the direction of the ACC & SEC Blog, to which I answered some questions about UVA's prospects this season. For a sneak preview of what I think about the outlook for 2010, read their UVA preview.

Clemson Tigers


9/4: North Texas
9/11: Presbyterian
9/18: @ Auburn
9/25: BYE
10/2: Miami
10/9: @ North Carolina
10/16: Maryland
10/23: Georgia Tech
10/30: @ Boston College
11/6: NC State
11/13: @ Florida State
11/20: @ Wake Forest
11/27: South Carolina

Skip: Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech

Projected starters:

QB: Kyle Parker (rSo.)
RB: Andre Ellington (rSo.)
WR: Xavier Dye (Sr.)
WR: Terrance Ashe (5Sr.)
WR: Marquan Jones (Jr.)
TE: Dwayne Allen (rSo.)
LT: Chris Hairston (5Sr.)
LG: Mason Cloy (rJr.)
C: Dalton Freeman (rSo.)
RG: Antoine McClain (Jr.)
RT: Landon Walker (rJr.)

DE: Da'Quan Bowers (Jr.)
NG: Brandon Thompson (Jr.)
DT: Jarvis Jenkins (Sr.)
DE: Andre Branch (rJr.)
SLB: Quandon Christian (rFr.)
MLB: Corico Hawkins (So.)
WLB: Brandon Maye (rJr.)
CB: Marcus Gilchrist (Sr.)
CB: Byron Maxwell (5Sr.)
FS: Rashard Hall (rSo.)
SS: DeAndre McDaniel (Sr.)

K: Richard Jackson (5Sr.)
P: Dawson Zimmerman (Jr.)

Coach: Dabo Swinney (3rd year)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Media prediction: 2nd, Atlantic Division


2009 1st team: TE Michael Palmer, KR C.J. Spiller, S DeAndre McDaniel
2009 2nd team: RB C.J. Spiller, WR Jacoby Ford, OT Chris Hairston, G Thomas Austin, DE Ricky Sapp
2009 HM: DT Jarvis Jenkins, LB Brandon Maye, CB Chris Chancellor, CB Crezdon Butler, S Rashard Hall
2010 preseason: OT Chris Hairston, DT Jarvis Jenkins, S DeAndre McDaniel

(Italics indicate returning player.)

A couple years ago, around this time of year, Clemson was the ACC's "it" team, thanks to all the flashy skill they returned. Everyone ignored all the new starters they had on the offensive line, and since that was Tommy Bowden's last year, you know what happened to that story. This year? The opposite - except for the expectations, which are similar, if less hype-induced.


The general question hanging around Clemson is how will they replace do-everything C.J. Spiller, but that's not all that needs replacing. Fully two-thirds of last year's receiving yards aren't going to be on the field this year, and other than quarterback Kyle Parker, Clemson needs a new plan for gaining yardage.

And they lucked into keeping Parker, too, who decided to turn down first-round money from the Colorado Rockies to return to Clemson for another year. He'll have to direct a transition on the field, and do it without favorite receiver Jacoby Ford as well. Xavier Dye, Terrance Ashe, and Marquan Jones all have field experience as semi-regulars last season, but none averaged more than a catch or so per game. Dye was the most productive of the three, but not by a ton. This is one place where a new name is almost certain to enter the equation; perhaps redshirt freshman Bryce McNeal. Tight end also sees a new starter in Dwayne Allen, who replaces Clemson's second most-prolific receiver from 2009.

Even with Spiller gone, running back maintains a little more clarity than do the receiver positions. Andre Ellington was the most productive of Spiller's backups, but Clemson leaned on Jamie Harper just as much as Ellington in a reserve role and probably will split the carries in a similar fashion in 2010. Ellington averaged an eye-popping 7.2 YPC last season, but mostly against the mushier opponents on Clemson's schedule.

But games are won in the trenches, they say, and Clemson's got some of the best in there. They don't have quite the experience of Boston College's group, but it shouldn't matter. The unit's best player is massive left tackle Chris Hairston, protecting Parker's blind side. Mason Cloy (who by the way is going into the Army when he graduates) is listed as the one non-returning starter, at left guard, but he's still plenty experienced and still got a few starts in 2009 as Thomas Austin spent a lot of the last half of the season being mentioned on injury reports. As a whole, the group would easily be Clemson's best unit if not for the secondary.


Last year's starters at safety were Marcus Gilchrist and DeAndre McDaniel; Gilchrist moves to cornerback this year to help replace last year's senior starters at that position. And to make room for Rashard Hall. Hall played as a reserve safety last year - and still racked up six interceptions and an honorable mention for all-ACC. Hall was second on the team in INTs; only McDaniel outpaced him, with eight. Yeah, it's a good group.

Of course, the reason Hall did so well even as a backup is because he was on the field a lot: Clemson's linebacking corps was so thin last year that they ran over 600 plays in the nickel package, which means more than 46 per game. That's not a concern that'll be rectified this year, as Brandon Maye is the only returning starter. Clemson appears to have little confidence in their linebackers, as the reserves saw very few snaps as compared to the reserves at other positions. Unless redshirt freshman Quandon Christian is ready to make like Steve Greer or BC's Kuechly, the DBs are probably going to cannibalize the LBs' snaps again.

There's no such concern up front. Preseason all-ACC tackle Jarvis Jenkins had 11 TFL last year, an impressive number for an interior lineman, and that total was matched by DE Da'Quan Bowers, who might be ready to complete his transition from super-recruit to superstar. From end to end the line has players capable of getting into the backfield and making life miserable.


Spiller returned just about everything that Clemson's opponents cared to kick at them, so the search will be on for a replacement. K Richard Jackson has an unsteady grip on the job: once outside 40 yards in 2009, his kicks were more likely to miss than not, and he wasn't any great shakes from 39 and in, either. The two flubbed PATs don't help, either. Dawson Zimmerman is a meh punter.


The only thing holding back Clemson's offense is that Kyle Parker still needs to figure out who to throw to; if someone emerges, look out. Parker is a terrific athlete and another year to figure out the quarterbacking gig is bad news for Clemson's opponents. Nobody on this roster is C.J. Spiller, but it shouldn't matter: the line will do a good enough job blocking for whoever has the ball that yardage on the ground won't be hard to come by.

As for the defense, the linebackers outside of Maye are a major weakness, but one that the Tigers can probably cover up most of the time. The line is more than capable and the secondary, especially McDaniel, is outstanding. Clemson has a tough schedule to navigate, and a few flaws. But this was a team that came within a hair of the ACC championship in 2009, and this is the ACC: if "a few flaws" is all they have, the rest might be enough. They'll contend, sure enough, and they just might face FSU with Charlotte on the line.

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