Pregame Pep Talk: Clemson should roll over SC State, and Week 2 picks (Gamecocks or Georgia?)

Sammy Watkins

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – Yo, Dabo, if you’re reading this … stop. Go, uh, go surf YouTube for “Key and Peele” skits or something.

You too, anybody who plays football in a Clemson uniform. NSFW … Not Safe For Watkins. (That means both of you, Sammy and Carlos.)

South Carolina State’s got no chance.

This is a tune-up game, a warmup act, the Hangover, Part I. You know how Swinney (no, seriously, stop reading, Coach) always openly wishes for preseason games? He’s got a post-preseason game here in Death Valley tomorrow.

Somebody make sure Tajh Boyd wakes up on time tomorrow. And that he stays awake from 12:30 p.m. until, oh, at least 1:30 or so. Then he can go curl up in his bed and watch an ‘Austin Powers’ marathon while Cole Stoudt and (unbelievably) Chad Kelly clean up in the second half.

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7 at 7: Seven reactions from Dabo Swinney, who’s “tired of that storyline” of Clemson’s inconsistency

Dabo Swinney

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – Seven topics touched on by head coach Dabo Swinney in the 24 hours after No. 8 Clemson’s 38-35 epic victory over No. 5 Georgia, and we start with a passionate plea Swinney clearly wanted to throw off his chest …

1) It was a simple, fair question. Does becoming the first non-SEC team to win two consecutive games against SEC opponents ranked in the top ten in college football history dispel the notion that Clemson underachieves?

Well, it’s an unfair question in that upsets are par for the course in college football. It’s fair in that Clemson has been unable to fulfill expectations in the past, and in sports, picking nits is part of the deal.

Anyway, Swinney went off.

“Yeah, well, I don’t get that. Y’all need to start writing something different. People, whoever covers us, need to start asking different questions,” Swinney said, with ire in his voice as the clock pushed past 1 a.m. Sunday.

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Chad Morris notes: Gallman, Dye likely to redshirt; Darrell Smith’s time to step up at tight end

Chad Morris

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON — For the past week to 10 days, Chad Morris has gone out for a lunchtime jog, and taken note of the students setting up camp surrounding Memorial Stadium.

On Monday, the lines of tents were replaced by lines of fans waiting eagerly to finally pick up their tickets (perhaps skipping class to do so) continued to impress Clemson’s offensive coordinator.

“It says a lot about our university. Just the excitement that our student body brings, they’re passionate and we love it,” Morris said. “We’re gonna need them rockin’ it Saturday night, and they will be. A lot of excitement – you can feel it in the air.”

No. 5 Georgia visits No. 8 Clemson on Saturday night, in case a reminder was needed. Fall camp has given way to game week, after months of anticipation.

“We’ve been studying off last year’s film, and the players that they have returning from last year, they’ve got some really good young talent,” Morris said. “There’s some players that got significant playing time from last year, just maybe weren’t a starter, we’ve got to be aware of. They’re going to come in, and they’re going to be as prepared as they’ve ever been.”

Morris has been asked many times about Georgia’s unknowns on defense, after losing eight players to the NFL draft.

“They play with such a great passion. They’re very well-coached,” Morris said. “They’re going to disguise their coverages. They’re going to bring pressure, just like everybody else does. They’ve got some young guys that are trying to earn their stripes.”

Gallman, Dye likely to redshirt: Morris was the first interview of the week out of the Clemson locker room, and he seemed more sure than ever that he’d prefer to redshirt both the Tigers’ highly-touted freshman rushers.

“That’s the plan going in, but that can change in a hurry,” Morris said. “We’re extremely excited about what Wayne (Gallman) has done during fall camp. He’s available.”

Gallman and Tyshon Dye started August practices strong, but were inconsistent in scrimmages as the season neared closer. Dye’s been battling a back injury, but even Gallman may have failed in his quest to crack the running rotation.

The only way Morris would see the redshirt being removed – once a first-year player is on the field and the ball is snapped, he loses his redshirt – would be significant injury to one of the top three backs: Roderick McDowell, Zac Brooks or walk-on C.J. Davidson. A series or even a whole game, to Morris, wouldn’t constitute a significant injury.

If Morris does change his mind?

“You and I will know about the same time,” Morris said. “I might may know a little bit earlier than you do, just about a step earlier, that’s about it. There he goes, when I’m the first one sending him in.

“He will be ready to play, I’ll tell you that. But we would like to hold him if we possibly could.”

Rookie wide receivers Mike Williams and T.J. Green are likely to play this season.

Patchwork plans: Since Sam Cooper tore his ACL in the spring game and Jordan Leggett is extremely doubtful for the Georgia game with a knee injury, converted fullback Darrell Smith is the de facto starter at tight end opening the season.

A fifth-year senior whose contributions have largely been through leadership than on-field production, Smith has the trust of his offensive coordinator.

“We feel like Darrell Smith is as good a football player as we’ve got,” Morris said. “He’s physical, he’s got good speed, and really good hands.”

As for Leggett’s status, Morris said “it’s hard to say right now. I don’t think anybody’s ruled that out as of today.” Leggett injured his MCL on Aug. 14, and the initial prognosis was three to four weeks recovery, but he’s been running and cutting in practice.

Morris insisted he’s “not really” concerned with the depth at tight end; Stanton Seckinger and Jay Jay McCullough add healthy options.

“Those guys, hey, they’ve got a scholarship,” Morris said. “They’re going to have to go earn it. We’re asking Darrell Smith, he’s a senior, and this is his time.”

Comeback kids: It’s a little bit unthinkable that Cooper and quarterback Chad Kelly, four and a half months removed from ACL reconstructive surgery, could play in 2013.

Kelly’s return would be a welcome development for Morris, at least to add quarterback depth. He participated in the Tigers’ latest scrimmage Friday.

“For him to be available is remarkable,” Morris said. “Those guys have been working extremely hard, though. They’ve been able to get out there and go through drill work. It says a lot about our training staff, and about Chad and Sam and the dedication they put in this summer.”

Battle backup: Isaiah Battle will be the next man in at offensive tackle, no matter what.

Morris said Battle, who’s listed as left tackle Brandon Thomas’ backup, would still play left tackle is Gifford Timothy went down – in which case Thomas would slide over to right tackle.

Injury report: On Clemson’s official press release, five players are listed as ‘out’ for the Georgia game: Dye (back), Cooper (knee), cornerback Mackensie Alexander (groin), offensive lineman Joe Gore (knee) and defensive tackle Scott Pagano (ankle).

Leggett (knee) and defensive back Jayron Kearse (shoulder) are listed as questionable. Kelly (knee) is probable to dress, though it’s unclear whether he’d get the call if top quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Cole Stoudt were both unavailable.

7 at 7: Notes from Saturday’s scrimmage, including the starting running back and the most important Tiger besides Tajh Boyd

Roderick McDowell

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – See what I did there? We can go 7 at 7 p.m. as well as in the a.m.

1) Since the quarterback position has been settled without a shadow of a doubt, the most intriguing positional battle in Clemson football camp on offense focuses on the starting tailback.

Of course, it won’t be just one featured runner. For now, at least, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney favors senior Roderick McDowell, who leads all Tigers tailbacks with 674 career rushing yards – which are actually nearly 100 fewer than quarterback Tajh Boyd’s career total.

“Rod’s our starter. He’s clearly earned the right to be the starter,” Swinney said Saturday, two weeks before the opener vs. Georgia. “But he can’t do it by himself. We’re going to be a running back by committee, and that’s fine. When you do what we do and you play as many snaps as we play, we’ve got to be able to have a good crop of guys.”

The other big name to watch is true sophomore Zac Brooks, who averaged 4.6 yards a carry in limited duty last year and has produced a consistently solid camp.

“He’s obviously a little bit bigger,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Moving the chains right now, doing some good things in pass protection, catches the ball really well.”

Brooks is listed as 6-foot-1, 190 pounds after pre-camp weigh-ins. McDowell is 5-10, 200, while D.J. Howard is 6-0, 195, so whatever Morris is seeing, Brooks might simply be playing bigger than his measureables.

“D.J. and Hot Rod do the same too, but he’s just a bigger body,” Morris said. “He’s got more of a tendency to be a punishing-style runner.”

Freshmen Tyshon Dye (5-11, 215), who’s missed the past week with a bad back, and Wayne Gallman (6-1, 200) are redshirt candidates. Walk-on C.J. Davison is also in the mix for carries.

2) While the baby-faced secondary goes through growing pains, Clemson’s defense will hinge early on its experienced front seven.

“I don’t think we’re dominant yet, but we are much, much improved in the defensive line and linebacker position from where we were last year at this time,” Swinney said. “Now will they make the same type of improvement? We will see. And we better be. Because we’ve got a really tough challenge right out of the gate.”

Darrell Smith3) In 37 career games, fifth-year senior Darrell Smith has one recorded one stat besides his 25 special-teams tackles: one catch, one yard, last year.

With the tight end position ravaged by injuries to Sam Cooper and Jordan Leggett, the listed fullback Smith is working at tight end.

“Darrell Smith has been awesome. Probably as important as Tajh right now to our offense,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to keep Darrell healthy and ready to go. He is that important to what we do in everything. He brings that toughness that we have to have.”

Added Boyd: “Darrell Smith is a big part of this offense right now. He’s a fifth-year senior who’s a selfless guy when he steps on that field. He’s going to have a big impact on us this season.”

Smith is referred to by teammates as a soft-spoken leader, but his role might be increasing very soon.

“I’m working on my craft,” Smith said. “Working on my pass routes, trying to catch the ball better, and improve my blocking every day.”

4) Upon discussing the knee injury to freshman athlete T.J. Green on Aug. 7, Swinney said ominously, “it doesn’t look good.”

Yet Green escaped a torn ACL prognosis, and returned to drills this week. On Saturday, he caught three passes during the scrimmage and was tackled without issue, a highly encouraging sign.

“He’s practiced well the last few days,” Swinney said. “Ran the ball after the catch well, returned kicks. He feels good.”

5) Swinney gathered his players and told them not to buy into the hype surrounding the program this season.

Once. And then, that was the end of it.

It hasn’t been a recurring topic in team meetings, even after the Associated Press poll released Saturday matched the coaches’ poll rating of No. 8 for the Tigers.

“I really don’t pay attention to it,” defensive end Corey Crawford said. “I don’t know how to comment on it, because we have to play regardless of whether we’re No. 1 or the last one. It really doesn’t matter until the end.”

6) Even though he’s just 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds – usually a body type fit for an outside linebacker – defensive end Vic Beasley has a chance to terrorize many a quarterback trying to pick apart Clemson’s defense.

“He plays like he’s 270. He can get into some mismatch situations, but his skill set allows him to overcome a lot of those things,” Swinney said. “His strength, his length, his speed, and his motor. He can be on the field on any down.”

7) This is probably the best way anybody could sum up a skilled yet raw group of freshmen going through their first fall camp, hoping to produce as early as 2013:

“The consistency is the thing,” Swinney said, “but they are flashy from time to time.”

Look for Leggett, Green, cornerback Mackensie Alexander, defensive end Shaq Lawson and defensive backs Jayron Kearse and Korrin Wiggins to definitely play early in their careers. The rest of the pack is still hoping to contribute this season, but many will redshirt and prepare for 2014.

Practice notes: Clemson honing in on firm five up front; Leggett suffers knee injury

Offensive line_mini

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – If Georgia was coming to Death Valley today, Clemson’s got a good feel of who run out there at offensive line.

Individually, there has been some consternation at certain spots within the past week. But with 17 days to go before the opener, head coach Dabo Swinney sounded far more confident in his starting group.

And that group does not include Isaiah Battle, whom the coaches have practically begged to step into a starring role at left tackle.

“Battle’s not going to beat out Brandon Thomas,” Swinney said Wednesday at Memorial Stadium following a morning situational scrimmage. “I mean, that’s a pipe dream.”

So there’s that. But if Battle was at least one of Clemson’s best five offensive lineman, that would scooch all-ACC lineman Brandon Thomas over one spot to left guard.

“In Battle’s situation, he’s not there yet, but at some point, hopefully the light comes on, and he’s one of those five, maybe he’s better than one of our other guys, then we’ve got flexibility,” Swinney said. “We don’t have a lot of flexibility with Isaiah – he’s going to play one spot, and that’s tackle.”

So Thomas is locked in at left tackle against the Bulldogs, right?

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. Unless something drastic changes, he’s the guy that gives us the best chance to win,” Swinney said. “That’s not going to change in the next couple of weeks.”

Plan B doesn’t look good either, for one reason. He stands 6-foot-4 tall and weighs 315 pounds and has a new nickname.

“David Beasley has had a great camp,” Swinney said, with enthusiasm. “If you had asked me that before camp, I’d have said it’s a real hot fire at left guard. But I tell you what: I think (offensive line coach) Robbie (Caldwell) changed his name from the Ugly Duckling to the Sexy Swan. You never know what Robbie’s going to say.”

After reporters stopped chuckling, Swinney outlined how Beasley’s been “the most pleasant surprise of camp,” and the best camp overall on the line outside of entrenched right guard Tyler Shatley.

“We didn’t know if he was going to be fully committed. We’re most pleased with him and his performance and his mental preparation,” Swinney said. “He has been very, very focused, and he’s made very few mental mistakes.

“And physically, he’s a train. Very strong, hard to get around. If he gets his hands on you, it’s over. He’s pushed through conditioning from a fatigue standpoint.”

On the other side of the line, Gifford Timothy’s hanging on to right tackle for now. Eric Mac Lain, Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are in the mix as backups.

“Giff is probably the guy who I’m not displeased with. I trust Giff. We all trust him,” Swinney said. “But he’s probably the guy that needs some fire under him.”

Finally, the center position. The most important cog on the line, and the saga of inconsistent shotgun snaps continues with Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo.

“We’ve been a little inconsistent with our snaps,” Swinney said. “Not bad, but just not the perfection that we’re looking for.”

The Tigers would like to have a firm five in place when game preparation for Georgia begins Aug. 22 – nine days before the showdown.

“Obviously an opener like this, a game like this, you’re gonna put your best foot forward,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to really dial in on who we want to go to battle with, and who we think is really ready, that we can trust.”

Leggett goes down: Promising freshman tight end Jordan Leggett was carted off from Wednesday’s scrimmage, after catching a pass and getting tackled. He went off to get his knee checked out, and details should follow today or tomorrow.

“Hopefully, it’s not bad,” Swinney said. “It didn’t look good on the field.”

-AB