CLEMSON — Chad Morris said he saw a lot of pep in his offense’s step Tuesday, and Clemson’s offensive coordinator matched his charges’ energy. In his first practice after signing a contract that will make him the nation’s highest-paid assistant, Morris was raring to go, focused on improving an already-potent Tiger offense for Jan. 4’s Orange Bowl date with West Virginia.
“People look at challenges and want to crawl in a hole,” Morris said. “I look at a challenge and I’m ready to stand on the table and go to work on it. That’s what excites me.”
“I think you’ve got a lot of momentum right now, coming off the way we played in the championship game,” he said, “ but there was so much we learned prior to the championship game. How to deal with things, how our players deal with things and not to overload them. We’re not there yet.”
Morris talked about getting back to fundamentals, young players and the futures of All-Americans Dwayne Allen and Sammy Watkins, among other things, during his first extended meeting with reporters in over two weeks Wednesday.
On getting back to fundamentals: “The week of the (ACC) championship game, coach (Dabo) Swinney really stressed going back to our basics and throwing out things that don’t work. And if they don’t work, on both sides of the ball, special teams, dialing back in and doing our base stuff. And getting guys back healthy was key too. Those are things we’ve got to focus on the next 15-16 practices.”
On depth at running back: “We’re going to have some guys coming in January. We hope Andre (Ellington) comes back next year, and feel he will. We’re in need of a running back, no question.”
On working with young players in bowl practice: “Coach does a good job of setting up our young guys to get some reps and that’s something we focus on. And they’ve gotten a lot of reps this year in practice. These guys have got to come on, use these extra 15 practices plus the extra practices we had for the championship, almost taking it as another spring ball. We’re going to almost get two springs out of them. They’ve got to understand the importance to be able to come on and be developed and get their technique right. It’s something that’s a huge concern. We’ve got to get these guys going.”
On the young offensive linemen: “You’ve got to hope that Kalon (Davis) would come on. Kalon’s got to become more physical. It’s hard to mention them all right now and which ones. Right now, I couldn’t tell you. If I start mentioning names, they might think they’re starters and they won’t work. I promise you I will not be their best friend. It ain’t happening. That’s an area we’re addressing with these young guys. They’ve got to use these 15 practices plus the spring ball to get themselves going.”
On senior left tackle Phillip Price:
“That guy is an anchor in that offensive line. He’s what you’re after. He, Dalton (Freeman) and Landon (Walker), those guys have anchored that front up there. Phillip has meant so much to us because of what he came from and having to walk on and earn everything that he got. Nobody gave him a chance and he battled through it. That showed so much about his drive and his character.
“Man, you’ve gotta love a guy that doesn’t wear shoes and you have to tell him to put a shirt on …he may not even take a bath. That’s what you want in your offense, guys that are mean and rugged and they just don’t care. That’s what we’ve got to get. That’s our focus. Landon, Dalton and (Price) have anchored us up front. We’ve got to get some guys a lot more tougher. That’s what we need and that’s my job, and that’s what we’re going to do.
“ Mental standpoint, physical standpoint, from the conditioning to the weight room, everything. We’ve got to become more mentally tough in that regard, to be able to run the football effectively.”
On if he’d be surprised if Allen returned for his senior year: “Would it surprise me? Absolutely not. Dwayne is motivated by how can he help, what can he do to make things better. It’s not going to surprise me either way. I’ve talked with him and shared with him my selfish standpoint, what I want, I want him to come back because I know what kind of player he can be.”
On Watkins being a Heisman Trophy candidate next year: “If that works out, it’d be great. Everyone would be excited and we’d be in New York City. I want Sammy to be here to win a national championship. That needs to be our goal. All the other stuff, all the other accolades will come with that. I think that he brings that to the table. He, Dwayne, Andre and Tajh in getting the right puzzle pieces in place. I think that’s realistic. As you look and start growing and expanding on the things that we’ve done this year.”
Looking at West Virginia’s defense: “They’re very fast. They run exceptionally well, they run a 3-3-5 defense. They’ve got one of the better pass defenses in the country (ranked 15th). I think a lot of that is the fact that they disguise a lot of things they do with the 3-3 stack look, they rush and will drop eight a lot. We’ve got to be able to run the football and you’ve got to be able to attack a lot of areas in that regard. One thing about a 3-3-5, that’s what we ran at Tulsa. Working at West Virginia with (Todd) Graham, that’s what they ran all those years. So going against a 3-3-5, I’ve seen that at Tulsa and done that. It’s a little different in some regards but they run really well. They’re not really big but their linebackers play so aggressive and down the hill when they play, and they do a good job of disguising their coverages. They’re very well-coached.”