Clemson Football: 10 Presents the Tigers Hope to Find Under the Tree
Season's greeting from this year's ACC Champion Clemson Tigers, led by jolly and passionate Dabo Swinney.
The Tigers have seen the most success they have had in over 20 years, reclaiming the ACC Championship and earning their first ever BCS Bowl bid to the FedEx Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.
And as the holidays draw on, the Tigers are making out their wish list for Santa Claus, if there could ever be a Santa Claus of football. Many fans are wondering, after winning the ACC Championship and earning a BCS Bowl bid, what could possibly be on the Tigers' wish list this holiday season?
Orange Bowl Victory
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First things first. The Clemson Tigers hope to find a BCS Orange Bowl Trophy under their tree, which they must earn by first defeating the pass-happy West Virginia Mountaineers.
West Virginia will test a young Clemson secondary, as the Mountaineers rank among the best in the nation when it comes to throwing the ball and have two receivers with over 1,000 receiving yards to boot.
Quarterback Geno Smith will be a challenge for the Clemson defense to contain, but if it can limit the big plays in the passing game and keep the West Virginia offense under wraps, the Tigers can come home with their first BCS bowl trophy.
A Returning Dalton Freeman and Andre Ellington
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The Clemson Tigers also want to find running back Andre Ellington and center Dalton Freeman under the Christmas tree returning for their senior seasons. Both players will be instrumental aspects for both the running game and the passing games, as the Tigers will already lose four starters off of their offensive line, with Brandon Thomas being the most experienced returning linemen next to Dalton Freeman.
Andre Ellington is the heart and soul of the Tigers running game, and while it isn't necessary that he will leave early, he, like Freeman, has submitted papers to the NFL to see his draft status.
With only two other running backs currently on scholarship plus an immature, inconsistent Mike Belllamy who has been suspended indefinitely, it is crucial that Ellington returns his invaluable experience to the Clemson backfield, as DJ Howard is not yet ready for a full-time starting role.
More Help at Running Back
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Even if Andre Ellington returns, the Clemson Tigers will only have three scholarship running backs on the roster, including him.
In their recruiting class, the Tigers have a plethora of talent coming in on both offensive and defensive lines, one of the nation's best at quarterback, and several top athletes, but there are no true running backs to speak of in the class.
When the Tigers check under that Christmas tree, they hope to find a running back Todd Gurley and/or Mike Davis. Gurley's size especially has the attention of the Tigers, who could especially use help in their short yardage running game, a consistent weakness despite a successful season.
Both of these running backs have been offered by Clemson, and both of them have the chance to come in and play immediately behind Ellington (should he return) and DJ Howard. Clemson needs to have reliable depth at running back to relieve the starter and have a good change of pace to keep the running game honest and better improve in the running game and in pass protection.
Courtesy of (Clemson.scout.com)
In the 2011 recruiting class, the Tigers hit two home runs when they nailed two highly touted linebackers in Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward. By the start of the season, both of them were in the two-deep linebacker rotation, with Anthony behind current starter Corico Hawkins at Mike linebacker and Steward handling the Sam position.
Both of these players showed talent, but Steward saw his season end early with a knee injury, and Anthony began to see a lot more time on the field, splitting snaps with Hawkins at Mike. This year the Tigers hope to find maturing linebackers under their Christmas tree.
For the past several seasons, the Tigers have struggled to produce at linebacker, and Anthony and Steward had a lot of potential to boost an inconsistent linebacking corps on what was a Top 25 defense for several seasons.
Anthony especially saw progress as the season went on and, in the ACC Championship, showed how well he can play if he plays with discipline and aggressiveness.
If the Tigers can show maturity at linebacker, it will be a huge benefit to the defense, especially in the running game, where the Tigers have remained inconsistent.
Aggressive Defensive Line
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This year, the Clemson Tigers had to experience some growing pains with a very young defense in both the front seven and the secondary. This was especially evident among the defensive line where the Tigers missed Jarvis Jenkins on the inside opposite Brandon Thompson, and the pass rushing threat of Daquan Bowers opposite Andre Branch.
The Tigers defensive line, while productive at times, failed to consistently get push at times throughout the season, especially near the end of the season where the Tigers lost three of their last four games. Besides Branch and Thompson, the defensive line did not have that aggressiveness that it has been known for in past seasons.
That is why the Tigers want to find more aggressive defensive linemen under their Christmas tree this year.
After the bowl game, the Tigers will lose Andre Branch and defensive tackles Rennie Moore and Brandon Thompson. They will have to replace three of those four spots, with the talented Corey Crawford likely to handle the end spot opposite Mallicah Goodman, who must step it up his senior year.
As for the defensive tackle spots, they are wide open, as the Tigers will bring in several talented freshmen, the most notable among them Carlos Watkins, and the young defensive linemen already on the roster will have their chance to claim a spot.
Maturing Offensive Linemen
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The Tigers are really hoping they will find a new group of determined, more mature and aggressive offensive linemen under the Christmas tree this year.
Out of their starting five offensive linemen, the Tigers will lose four of them, and possibly five should Dalton Freeman decide to test his mettle in the NFL. The second-string linemen behind the current group are all young and inexperienced, with Brandon Thomas having the most experience of the group, having started the last six games or so of the season.
The spring will be a busy one for offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell and tackles coach Danny Pearman, as they try to find the right offensive linemen, though it may not be set in stone by the start of fall camp. This upcoming recruiting class has a number of talented offensive linemen that could have a couple of starters by the 2012 season opener.
Growth in Secondary
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A throughly tested unit on this Clemson team was their young secondary, with the majority of the players, especially at cornerback, being sophomores or freshmen. One such example includes Bashaud Breeland, who cracked the starting lineup at the outside corner spot. Sophomores Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson also saw time as well in the main rotation.
The Clemson Tigers, do, however, want to find growth in the secondary under their Christmas tree.
This unit struggled throughout the season with big plays in the passing game, especially early in the season, and the safeties were also inconsistent in the deep field and helping in run support.
Continued Tight End Prouduction
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With the exceptional play of tight end Dwayne Allen, the Tigers had plenty of options outside of receivers Sammy Watkins and Deandre Hopkins in the passing game. But, with Allen certain to declare for the NFL craft, the Tigers will be looking for continued production at the tight end position. And that means back-ups Brandon Ford and Sam Cooper will be counted on to step up and fill Allen's void.
Ford has shown the ability to be productive in the passing game, but must improve in run blocking and become tougher as a tight end when lining up on the line of scrimmage. Sam Cooper is a relative unknown, but will be counted upon to step up as the likely backup to Ford.
Pass Rushing Specialist
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With the departure of Andre Branch, the Tigers will be searching under the Christmas tree for that pass rusher that seems to permeate the Clemson defensive line every season.
In 2011, Branch assumed that role and did not disappoint in his role. But know the Tigers must discover who that threat is among who is coming back and which freshman could potentially fill that role along the defensive line.
Returning senior Mallicah Goodman is a questionable option as a pass-rushing threat, but returner Corey Crawford has the potential to become that pass-rushing threat on the edge, but he will be challenged by the incoming freshman and the upcoming red-shirt freshmen.
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Along the Clemson offensive line, the guard play was the most inconsistent throughout the course of the season and is essential in short-yardage situations, an area that Clemson never truly conquered all season.
If Clemson is looking for specifics along the offensive line under its Christmas tree, the Tigers are looking for improved guard play, and with both starting guards graduating, they will be hoping to find those guards who can get the tough yards and provide the push needed in the running game.