The Clemson Tigers just wrapped up their second full week of fall camp and are now just two weeks away from a trip to Georgia to open the 2014 season. After unseasonably cool temperatures at the beginning of the month, the heat picked up over the past week and so did the intensity.
After a scrimmage on Wednesday, the Tigers had a light practice on Thursday and plan to do the same on Friday. Saturday will be Clemson's next scrimmage, and head coach Dabo Swinney certainly hopes it goes much better than Wednesday's effort.
"We would not have beaten anyone today," Swinney told the assembled media after practice, per Brandon Rink of the Anderson Independent Mail. "We had way too many mistakes. It has been a good camp until today, but there were just too many errors in all phases of the game."
What disturbed Swinney the most, however, was the amount of penalties on both sides of the ball:
We had situations where the offense jumped on third and one. We had a defensive back line up offsides. We had too many interference penalties on defense. We had a couple of running backs put the ball on the ground. I am glad we didn’t play a game today.
Was it simply a matter of players hitting the wall, or is it the sign of an undisciplined team? Fortunately for Clemson, it has 21 scholarship seniors on the roster—most ever under Swinney—and veteran teams are generally more mature and disciplined.
After two weeks of practice, of course there are injuries. The Tigers, though, are not in bad shape at the present time.
Left tackle Isaiah Battle was one player who returned to full participation this week after battling an ankle injury. Battle needs the practice time, as he's entering his first full year as a starter.
Tight end Stanton Seckinger is out for 3-4 weeks after suffering an ankle injury. Seckinger was third on the depth chart entering fall camp, and his absence has opened the door for sophomore Jay Jay McCullough behind Jordan Leggett.
Fellow tight end Sam Cooper, also battling an injury, continues to improve and practice in a limited capacity this week.
Wide receiver Charone Peake, who missed the majority of last season with an ACL injury and had minor knee surgery at the end of July, continues to run on the side and should be ready to go for the season opener.
Offensive Line Coming Together
Once the 2013 season ended, there were many concerns surrounding Clemson on the offensive side of the ball. Obviously, many wondered who would replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback and Sammy Watkins at wide receiver.
But what about the offensive line? The Tigers lost Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley from what was a strong group in 2013.
Clemson returned a lot of experience along the offensive line in 2014, but the biggest questions centered around who would man each tackle spot.
Battle is an extremely talented athlete. At 6'6", 288 pounds, he sometimes struggles to keep weight on and would like to start the season at close to 300 pounds. Battle sometimes lacks focus and was suspended one game last season for punching an N.C. State player. If Battle can put it all together, he could be an All-American left tackle.
The biggest surprise of fall camp, though, has been right tackle Joe Gore. Throughout the spring, Gore was locked into a battle with Shaq Anthony to start on the right side. Gore, however, appears to have moved ahead of Anthony.
"Joe Gore has been outstanding," said Swinney, per Nikki Steele of TigerNet. "He's been as good as anybody in camp."
That was Swinney's response when asked about the right tackle position. No mention of Anthony. Expect this battle to continue into the season with Anthony suspended for the season opener.
A plethora of experience returns to man the interior of the offensive line. Junior Ryan Norton returns at center, but he could also see time at guard. The offensive coaching staff has moved around each of the interior linemen throughout the spring and fall camp as a way to find the best five linemen.
David Beasley, Eric Mac Lain, Jay Guillermo, Kalon Davis and Tyrone Crowder will also battle for time at the guard spots. For now, it appears that Beasley and Davis are the starters, but Crowder is a player to keep an eye on.
The first name that comes to mind is sophomore tight end Jordan Leggett.
This is a recurring theme. Leggett was also terrific this spring.
On a team that lost over 50 percent of its receiving offense and lacks game experience at wide receiver, expect the tight end position to be heavily featured this fall. That's outstanding news for Leggett.
Wednesday's scrimmage may not have pleased Swinney overall, but Leggett didn't disappoint. The 6'5", 240-pounder caught seven passes and two touchdowns in the situational part of the scrimmage. Seckinger and Cooper's absences have also allowed Leggett to gain a rapport with quarterback Cole Stoudt.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris hasn't featured the tight end heavily during his time at Clemson, but that could also be a function of having so much talent at wide receiver. With the Tigers figuring out who will start at receiver, Leggett is showing coaches he may be the offense's most talented player.
Another beneficiary of the injuries at tight end is McCullough. The 6'3", 248-pound McCullough is a talented athlete who can not only line up at tight end, but in the backfield, too. McCullough continues to rise up the depth chart.
In the team's first padded practice last week, McCullough put on a show. He had more than 100 receiving yards in the seven-on-seven drills and caught a touchdown in the 11-on-11 portion of practice.
McCullough actually carried the ball in a game vs. Citadel last season, so he will allow Morris to be creative.
On defense, senior linebacker Tony Steward is having his best camp. Steward was once a top recruit, but he has struggled to stay healthy. Swinney is counting on Steward and Stephone Anthony at linebacker.
All-American defensive end Vic Beasley continues to show why he is one of the top defensive players in the nation. In the scrimmage on Wednesday, Beasley had two sacks and two tackles for loss. He's poised for another big season.
One of the biggest surprises of camp has been the emergence of redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Carter. A high school teammate of Wayne Gallman, Carter entered camp at the bottom of the depth chart, but he has opened coaches' eyes by making several plays in practice, including a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown during the scrimmage.
Dabo Having Fun
Professional billiards player Loree Jon Jones recently visited Clemson and provided some entertainment for the players, courtesy of the head coach.
Swinney laid down on the pool table and allowed Jones—a Clemson fan—to line up a trick shot off his lips. Once Jones took the shot, Swinney jumped up and asked if it went in.
It did, and Swinney displayed the same exuberance he does on Saturdays in the fall.
Another reason why Swinney is beloved by his players. In the midst of fall camp and preparation for Georgia, the head coach took some time out to have fun with his players.