The Clemson Tigers quickly got down to business after a disappointing 6-7 season that has gotten head coach Dabo Swinney on the hot seat.
However, Sweeney has made a thorough revamping of the coaching staff, especially on offense, which had been the Tigers achilles' heel all of the 2010 season. All of the offensive staff were replaced with the exception of tight ends/tackles coach Danny Pearman and wide receivers/recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott.
New offensive coordinator Chad Morris from Tulsa was brought in, Tony Elliot was hired as the new running backs coach and Robbie Caldwell was named as the new offensive line coach while Brad Scott moved to an administrative position.
Add a top ten recruiting class to the newly revamped coaching staff, and the Tigers are set to emerge and establish themselves as a top ACC team and head back to Charlotte for another shot at the ACC Championship. Spring practice will be especially crucial for the players to learn the new offense and the new styles the coaches will be implementing.
With a new offense, a good bit of eyes will be on the new "smash mouth spread" being implemented by Chad Morris, who coached Tulsa to a top ten offense in 2010. The positions to watch will be as follows through the spring before the recruits arrive in June:
The quarterback production last season dropped tremendously as Kyle Parker held out for a baseball contract with the Colorado Rockies, and it showed on the field by not coming to fall camp and developing trust with the receivers, who were already devoid of play makers to begin with. Parker's lack of pocket presence and flushing tendencies were a big part of the offense's downfall last season.
Now, Parker has gone to focus on a pro baseball career and Tajh Boyd comes into the spring as the starter. Boyd has the intangibles and good upside to be starter, especially in Chad Morris's offense,which Boyd can benefit greatly from. The question will be how fast Boyd can pick up the offense and how he will handle the pressure of being a full time starter in college.
Behind Boyd is nothing but two freshmen and a walk-on quarterback. Freshman Tony McNeal and Cole Stoudt were early enrolles, and have a chance to learn the offense early. However, these two will head into camp competing for the back-up spot behind Boyd.
How they fit into the new offense will be interesting to see, as both are described as pro style QBs, and the new offense needs more of a dual threat quarterback.
This position was one of the few the bright spots on offense last year, and only because of Andre Ellington. When Ellington went down with an injury, it exposed a lack of development and depth. Jamie Harper did okay, but didn't provide the same type of threat running the football that Ellington did. The third running back spot held by Rod McDowell was also questioned, as he got little chance to record a carry or a pass. This lack of development is what led to the firing of Andre Powell.
Now, Harper has surprisingly left for the NFL Draft and Clemson currently has only four running backs on scholarship.
Help is on the way, though.
Running back Mike Bellamy is among the best backs in Florida and one of the most explosive backs in the nation. He has great speed and is likely to be Ellington's back up heading into the season.
Where this position will get the most looks are the red-shirt freshman Demont Buice and DJ Howard, along with red-shirt sophomore McDowell. With a need for at least three solid running backs, there will be a good long look at these three young, unproven running backs in the spring and the fall.
The position under the most scrutiny on the offense was the wide receiver position. This position never really took off all season, especially when Kyle Parker was under center. The two main targets were Jaron Brown and Deandre Hopkins. The Tigers were sorely in need of help in the passing game.
Thanks to the recruiting class, Clemson now has that help.
In the fall, the Tigers will bring in three highly touted receivers in Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake, and Sammy Watkins. Bryant will be enrolling after completing credits at Hargrove Academy. Peake is a tall target at 6-3, and is a deep threat the Tigers are sorely in need of. Watkins is a great slot receiver,and one of the most highly rated receivers in the state of Florida.
All three will likely receive immediate playing time.
However, in the spring, the eyes will be on the current receivers on campus. With all of these highly rated receivers coming in, players will be feeling the pressure to perform. Hopkins is likely the only one who will be sure of playing time heading into the spring and the fall.
Players like Jaron Brown, Bryce McNeal, and red-shirt freshman Joe Craig will feel the most to show everyone what they can do before the new guys arrive in June.
Probably the worst position next to the quarterback position was the kicking game. Chandler Cantanzaro was the starter, and struggled to make 50% of his kicks. Richard Jackson was just as bad and Spencer Benton only handled kickoffs.
Now, the kicking competition is open once again for what seems like the millionth time. With the departure of special teams coach Andre Powell, Dan brooks will handle special teams. The Tigers signed kicker Ammon LaKip in their recruiting class, but it's always hard to tell how these kickers will grade out in college, as they must adjust to the kicking speed and power in college.
Mainly, the coaches will watch how Benton and Cantanzaro kick, and should likely take whichever kicker does the best. At this point it looks like the competition will remain open until some time in fall camp.
There will be plenty to look forward to in the spring from the offense, and how Dabo's personnel changes will be seen in the spring game. Expect a decent turn out for the spring game in a few moths. We shall highlight the defense in the coming days.