Ellington is one of the few playmakers the Tigers have on offense, and the upcoming recruiting class brings plenty of potential firepower.
With National Signing Day drawing closer and closer, the Clemson Tigers will look to finish their recruiting class on a high note, hoping to bring in a loaded class of at least 24 commitments. Clemson's 2011 recruiting class is among the best in the nation, possessing great potential on both sides of the ball, especially on the offensive side, which has obtained commitments from some of the best prospects in the nation such as running back Mike Bellamy and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Charone Peake.
Coming off their first losing season (6-7) since 1998, the Tigers desperately need to find answers for their incompetent offense and kicking game woes. They also need to obtain more talent on defense, especially at linebacker.
The process to fix the offense has started with a complete overall of the offensive coaching staff, hiring Chad Morris as offensive coordinator and Tony Elliot as running backs coach, while moving Brad Scott to an administrative position and hiring Robbie Caldwell. Only wide receivers/recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott has remained intact on the offensive coaching staff.
With a new coaching staff in place, head coach Dabo Swinney must continue his evaluations of the football team and get the right pieces in place to avoid another losing season, and not all of them are on the offense.
Perhaps the biggest need on offense was the wide receiver position. Plaugued by inconsistency all year, Clemson's receiving corps lacked consistency until midway through the season, and yet still lacked the threat of any downfield receivers to stretch the field vertically, with Hopkins only a shallow-mid downfield threat. A disgruntled Kyle Parker at quarterback didn't help the passing game improve.
This offseason, the Tigers have looked to improve the quality of the receiving corps with the hiring of new offensive coordinator Chad Morris from Tulsa. Next, the coaching will bring improve quantity as well as quality by bringing in five receivers in their 2011 recruiting class, among which three or four of them could be in for immediate playing time.
Charone Peake and Sammy Watkins are among the two best receiving recruits in the nation who will receive immediate playing time. Peake is the much-needed downfield threat the Tigers need, while Watkins is a threat to make plays out of the slot position. Martavis Bryant is another tall standing target at 6'3" who could make plays as an outside threat.
Last season saw quarterback Kyle Parker undergo a transformation from the tough, strong-armed quarterback of 2009 to the timid, flushing turnover machine of 2010. Holding out for his baseball contract all summer did not help Parker get up to speed or develop any kind of trust with his receivers, nor did it help the coaches do their jobs to coach him. By season's end, Parker was a shell of his former self and looked ready and willing to give up football for good.
Now, with Parker headed off to Colorado to begin his pro baseball career, Tajh Boyd is now the heir apparent to start at quarterback and has three years to show Clemson fans what he can do. A taller presence in the pocket at around 6'2', 230 pounds, Boyd has all of the intangibles to succeed in Chad Morris's spread offense, which is similar to Auburn's no huddle offense. Heading into camp, and barring any injuries, Boyd IS the starter.
However, who his backup will be is up for debate. Currently, there are only walk-ons Donnie McEleeven and Tayor Ogle, both freshmen, on the roster behind Boyd. The Clemson coaching staff has looked to shore up their depth at quarterback through the recruiting class, and have received three commitments from quarterbacks Tony McNeal, Cole Stoudt and Morgan Roberts, who was offered a grayshirt.
This class of quarterbacks are rated as high 3-star to low 4-star prospects at their position. How they will fit into the new offense remains up in the air, as it requires a mobile quarterback to run it effectively. McNeal is described as pro-style and not much of a running threat, and it is unclear as to how much of a running threat Stoudt and Roberts are.
Stoudt and McNeal are fortunately early enrolls, and will have time to grasp the new offense before fall camp. Both of them will be on the roster as true freshmen, and will be in competition for the No. 2 spot on the two-deep depth chart.
This may come as a pleasant surprise, but the Clemson Tigers actually have a legitimate need at running back, which hasn't been much of a concern in the past couple of years with the luxuries of running backs like James Davis, CJ Spiller and Andre Ellington to carry the load for the Tigers.
What was once a crowded backfield several months prior is suddenly starting to dwindle. With the departure of highly touted recruit Marlin Lane due to off-the-field issues, and the surprise declaration of Jamie Harper to the NFL, the backfield currently has only four running backs on scholarship, one of which is a redshirt sophomore and two of which will be redshirt freshmen.
However, help is on the way from Punta Gorda, Florida. Mike Bellamy, who is rated among the best backs in the nation and the state of Florida, is strongly committed to Clemson and has arguably the biggest potential of any recruits in Clemson's 2011 recruiting class. Bellamy is a threat to score any time he touches the ball, and has great speed and has drawn comparisons to NFL running back Chris Johnson.
While Bellamy is likely the only back the Tigers will sign, they must count on redshirt freshmen Demont Buice and DJ Howard to step up to the plate. Redshirt sophomore Rod McDowell struggled due to a lack of carries, and failed to capitalize on his offseason success after suffering an injury during fall camp.
Swinney has looked to improve running back development by firing running backs coach Andre Powell and replacing him with former receivers coach Tony Elliot. Elliott is surely a questionable hire for this coaching staff, as he has never coached running backs, but he looks to be an upgrade over Andre Powell.
With Bellamy likely the No. 2 running back behind Andre Ellington, there will likely be competition for the No. 3 spot between Buice, Howard and McDowell.
The Achilles heel of Clemson's defense the last couple of years has been the inconsistency and lack of game-changing production at the linebacker positions. Once Kevin Steele came onto the scene in 2009, the linebackers saw improvement, but struggled to help out the front four in run support and rushing the quarterback.
Part of it has been due to the troubles of the coaching staff recruiting consistent, top tier linebackers. Again, this is improving under Steele's current regime. The loss of linebackers due to health issues has also been a contributing factor, as was the case with Stanley Hunter and Jake Nicolopolus.
The staff began fixing their linebacker issues by shuffling players into different positions, such as moving Corico Hawkins to middle linebacker from strongside linebacker and moving Brandon Maye from middle linebacker to weakside linebacker. This move produced better results for Clemson's linebackers in 2010, though Maye remained largely inconsistent and struggled with injuries. Quandon Christian has retained a good hold at strongside linebacker, with true sophomore Justin Parker is right behind him.
The coaching staff has received three commitments from three linebackers so far: BJ Goodson, Colton Walls and the highly-touted Lateek Townsend. Goodson is rated as a 3-star prospect by most services, and is projected as an outside linebacker and could fit as a strongside linebacker at 6'1", weighing 215 pounds. He is likely headed for a redshirt in 2011.
Walls also grades out as a 3-star prospect by most services, and at 6'2", 230 pounds, grades out at middle and inside linebacker. He has good intangibles and size, and is likely headed for a redshirt to develop for a year, and is likely to be worked at strongside linebacker to see where he fits best.
Townsend grades out as a 4-star prospect, and ranks among the best outside linebackers in the nation. He projects as a likely weakside linebacker on the outside. Townsend will have to add bulk to his 200-pound frame, but he has the ability to avoid a redshirt. He is one of the first highly recruited linebackers Clemson has had in a while.
A position that needs some new blood is their defensive line, which will need to fill the voids left by defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins and defensive end Daquan Bowers.
Clemson's defensive line has been among the best in the ACC and arguably among the best in college football. The starting four have had excellent chemistry together, and even more so under defensive coordinator(s) Kevin Steele and Charlie Harbison. These co-defensive coordinators must now look to replace the most consistent production on its defense.
Fortunately, the defensive line is fortunate in being among the deepest in terms of depth in the ACC. Brandon Thompson will be the top defensive tackle returning as a starter, and Mallicah Goodman looks to be the likely starter at defensive end opposite Andre Branch. The main starter at the beginning of camp is likely to be senior Rennie Moore, and will compete with several youngsters behind him to retain a starting position.
Overall, the defensive needs to continue to develop overall depth at the defensive line, and while several defensive linemen will be signed in the 2011 class, all of them are likely to be headed for redshirts barring any injuries to Clemson's other defensive linemen.
Clemson struggled immensly in the kicking game, and posed little threat in scoring field goals.
A kicker would be greatly appreciated for special teams.
The last few seasons for Clemson have been atrocious on special teams. There has been a complete lack of accuracy from Clemson's current unit of kickers, and one is needed ASAP.
With the graduation of kicker Richard Jackson, Clemson has only two current kickers on its roster in junior Spencer Benton and walk on sophomore Chandler Cantanzaro. Benton has mainly handled kickoffs in his first two seasons. Cantanzaro was an interesting find last year, and the Tigers granted him a scholarship after joining the team as a walk-on.
Cantanzaro proved to be strong of leg, but weak of accuracy, as he struggled to make 50 to 60 percent of his field goals on the season. A missed field goal was guaranteed just about every game.
The need for a consistent kicker is very high. A huge part of the kicking game is the kicker's mental ability, which appear to be short on Clemson's current roster. Benton has been given one shot, but it's unsure how well he would do.
The Tigers have received a commitment from Ammon Lakip out of Alpheretta, Georgia in their recruiting class. Lakip will surely have the chance to start and bring back some sort of consistent kicking game to the Tigers' special teams units. Other than that, Clemson will have three kickers once again on its roster: one walk-on sophomore who is a 50 percent kicker, one who handles only kickoffs and an unproven true freshman at the collegiate level.