Signing day ‘the event’ was good to Clemson football.
The Tigers were anointed as one of the day’s darlings – one of a handful of programs that finished off classes with top-level additions and dramatic, nationally-televised announcements.
Dabo Swinney completed a sea-change on the perception front in the aftermath of a difficult and frustrating season, and the Clemson program ascended on the national stage while reigniting enthusiasm and hope for the fan base.
As Swinney succinctly put it, “we got better today.”
The Tigers also did themselves well in the less-glamorous, nuts-and-bolts enterprise aimed toward putting a winning team on the field – next season and in years to come.
The signing-day decisions of Spencer Region and Roderick Byers were, in one sense, every bit as important – and important in the much the same way – as those of five-star superstars Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony: they solidified positions critical to the Tigers’ success during the next (and never-ending) cycle of replacing personnel.
In all cases – at linebacker, defensive end and the offensive line – what happened on signing day rounded out, complemented and improved personnel groupings that had already been positively addressed.
During Kevin Steele’s first two seasons as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, the Tigers have ‘made-do’ – mixing, matching and cross-training to cover the three positions. At times, that has entailed the extensive use of a ‘nickel’ packages utilizing a fifth defensive back; and on occasion has required moving bandit ends Kevin Alexander and Andre Branch off the line of scrimmage.
With the addition of Steward, Anthony, Lateek Townsend, CJ Goodson and Colton Walls, Steele not only has upgraded the Tigers’ talent level, but will finally enjoy the ‘luxury’ of having adequate numbers to develop the kind of depth that has benefited Clemson’s defense in other areas.
The addition of Byers fills a similar, but more position-specific, need created by Da’Quan Bowers’ early exit to the NFL.
Heading into the home stretch of the recruiting cycle, the Tigers clearly needed to add another defensive end into the mix. They aimed high in their pursuit of Ray Drew and Jeoffrey Pagan, and when those scenarios didn’t work out, they made a late offer to Byers.
While the Rock Hill-Northwestern defensive end might be considered a ‘fall-back’ signee, he fills that niche in a manner fitting for a top-10 recruiting class. Had Clemson not come knocking late, Byers was headed to Oregon to play for a team that just played for the national championship.
The addition of Region to the offensive line mix was an icing-on-the-cake affair, in that Clemson had already signed the requisite number of players needed to keep the proper flow of numbers into the position. But with a significant personnel-replacement cycle just a year away, the addition of a player rated higher, nationally, than any other in the group is a welcome addition.
As the coaching staff begins plugging players into positions, beginning this fall and continuing over the next several seasons, they’ll look back on Signing Day 2011 as much more than a feel-good event; and the holes filled by Steward, Anthony, Region and Byers will be part of the reason.
Reading Between The Lines: The recruiting buzz on Jaron Blossomgame – the little that turns up via internet search - describes him as a ‘power forward.’ I’m thinking that might not be exactly what Brad Brownell has in mind for the slender, 6-7 Chattahoochee High (GA) junior, who recently broke his high school’s scoring record with a 42-point game.
Blossomgame – like K.J. McDaniels, who last month committed to Clemson’s 2011 recruiting class – might better be described as a still-developing, already-tall wing forward.
Not everybody’s Harrison Barnes comes ready-made.
North Carolina wasn’t the first team this season to expose Clemson’s overall team size deficiency, but few teams have a deeper collection of tall, skilled players with whom to make the point.
One of the things that Brownell has plainly shown us in his first season as head coach is his determination, as well as his ability, to coach each athletic specifically toward becoming a more complete player.
When Oliver Purnell signed an athletic, under-the-radar 6-7 forward, he was banking on that player’s length and athleticism to fill a role. When Brownell signs a player of similar size, I’m reading between the lines and thinking that he’s looking for a little bit more.