Personnel turnover is part of the life cycle of every football program. The most successful programs are often the ones that manage to navigate the cyclical ups and downs with as little disruption as possible.
Clemson’s offensive coaches will be challenged by significant turnover next season, primarily on the offensive line, where five mainstay seniors – Landon Walker, Antoine McClain, Phillip Price, David Smith and Mason Cloy – must be replaced.
Coaches Robbie Caldwell and Danny Pearman will build their line around a pair of returning starters – center Dalton Freeman, a Rimington Award finalist, and Brandon Thomas, who has played both at the left guard and tackle positions this season.
After those two players – who combined for nearly 1,700 snaps this season – the drop-off in experience is severe.
The coaches have been able to get the second offensive line into games as a unit on several occasions this season, but for the most part were able to plug injury-related holes from within their experienced core of seven players.
The Tigers will return 100 percent of 2011 playing time at the quarterback position, and over 96 percent in the wide receiver rotation.
The wild card areas for the Clemson offense going into 2012 will be running back and tight end.
The Tigers should expect to lose tight end Dwayne Allen to the NFL draft. That would elevate converted wide receiver Brandon Ford into the starting position and put rising sophomore Sam Cooper and redshirting freshman Eric MacLain on the fast track for significant playing time.
The situation at running back is even more unsettled. Junior Andre Ellington will test the NFL waters, while freshman Mike Bellamy is currently suspended. Without Ellington, the Tigers will face a wholesale reallocation of playing time at the position.
Following is a position-by-position look at how personnel turnover will affect the offense as the Tigers look ahead to next season:
Tight End: Junior Dwayne Allen, who is projected as a likely first-round NFL draft pick, accounted for 829 of 1,085 snaps (76.4 percent) during the course of the season. Junior Brandon Ford (201) got the majority of the rest, with redshirt freshman Sam Cooper getting 52.
Wide Receiver: The Tigers’ were disproportionately young at the wide-out positions in 2011, and thus will return almost their entire playing lineup. Of the 2,660 snaps logged by the Tigers’ scholarship players, just 99 (3.7 percent) went to the group’s lone senior, Marquan Jones. First-year freshmen accounted for 1,246 snaps – 46.8 percent.
Running Back: Clemson’s experience level at the running back position will depend almost entirely on whether Andre Ellington returns for his senior season. If Ellington comes back, then the Tigers will return 100 percent participation for the 2012 season. If he doesn’t, then Clemson must replace 694 of 1,017 snaps – 68.2 percent.
Quarterback: The Tigers lose nothing, with both Tajh Boyd and Cole Stoudt returning. Boyd accounted for 93.4 percent of snaps this season – 928 to Stoudt’s 65.
Fullback: Clemson loses the only player who saw significant time at the fullback spot – Chad Dielh, who averaged just over 10 snaps per game.
Offensive Line: The numbers reflected the mountainous rebuilding task facing the Tigers next season. Junior center Dalton Freeman has filed NFL paperwork, but is expected back after playing virtually every snap – a team-high 975 – this season, and sophomore Brandon Thomas will be back after playing 702 snaps this season. The group of players who, in some combination, will man the three vacancies totaled just 147 snaps, led by tackle Gifford Timothy with 36 snaps and guard Kalon Davis with 35. By comparison, the Tigers will lose 3,167 season snaps – and 9,342 career snaps – in Landon Walker, Antoine McClain, Mason Cloy, David Smith and Phillip Price.