As football preps for 2012 opener, changes ahead for Clemson athletic department

Young defensive line exposes short-yardage challenge facing Tiger offense

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd hands off a ball to running back Andre Ellington during the first practice of the season at Clemson.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd hands off a ball to running back Andre Ellington during the first practice of the season at Clemson.

Clemson’s interior defensive line – a key component of any successful 2012 scenario - appears to be in good hands.

The coaches have been telling us that for a while: first, by moving Tyler Shatley to offensive guard, with hardly a glance back to where he came from; second, by shifting Tavaris Barnes to defensive end, where he’ll be part of a four-man rotation that includes Malliciah Goodman, Corey Crawford and Vic Beasley; and then last week by moving massive Jerome Maybank into the offensive line mix.

DeShawn Williams, Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson will form the Tigers’ initial three-man tag team at the nose guard and defensive tackle positions. Competition for snaps will continue throughout the preseason among a group that includes Roderick Byers, Kevin Dodd, Carlos Watkins, D.J. Reader and Tra Thomas.

The best news of all is that there’s no one older than a sophomore in the bunch.

Looking ahead, Clemson may well have assembled the nation’s top group of defensive end commitments for 2013, led by No. 1-rated Robert Nkemdiche and top-10 complement Elijah Daniels, and already has one of the nation’s top-rated defensive tackles on board in Scott Pagano.

The Tigers are similarly stocked in talent on the offensive front; but the nature of the beast – the slower development of the offensive line – showed painfully on Saturday during the course of team’s first full-scale scrimmage.

The defense pitched a shutout in short-yardage situations. That’s good news for Brent Venables, but not so much for Chad Morris and Robbie Caldwell.

The inability to make a tough yard or two anywhere on the field, and to consistently cash in touchdown opportunities on the goal line, stands between the Tigers and championship-level football, according to quarterback Tajh Boyd.

“It wasn’t a good day for short yardage,” said Boyd. “If we want to be a championship team we have to have a nose for the end zone.”

Things were so bad on Saturday that senior Dalton Freeman lamented that he’d rather face “third-and-seven than third-and-two.”

“It’s schematically not understanding what is going on,” Freeman said.

Boyd agreed that it was less a case “of getting blown off the ball” than that “there is some misinterpretation.”

Dabo Swinney, well-versed in the two-edged blade of preseason intrasquad work, seemed less alarmed by what he saw on Saturday.

But there’s little question that everyone’s eyes – on both sides of the line of scrimmage – will be fixed on the trenches as the Tigers continue to prepare for their opening test against Auburn.

Big Changes Ahead For Athletic Department

The Terry Don Phillips era is coming to a close at Clemson, and signs indicate that a new face at the top will be just one of many changes to the athletic department’s leadership structure.

The Athletic Advisory Committee appointed last year has recommended significant changes to IPTAY and the way it fits into the athletic decision-making process, while Clemson president James Barker said this week that fund-raising and communication skills will be high on his priority list as candidates are considered to replace Phillips.

Clemson’s quest for change shouldn’t be interpreted as a knock on the job that Phillips has done over the past decade, however.

Much of Phillips’ Clemson legacy will stand in brick-and-mortar. He pushed the envelope on facilities improvements, with impressive results.

Part of his legacy will be Clemson’s exemplary performance in the areas of academics and compliance.

And part of his legacy is still to be written, as the men he’s hired for Clemson’s most important and highest-profile positions – Dabo Swinney and Brad Brownell – continue working to establish their programs among the nation’s elite.

Swinney’s success, in particular, is satisfying both professionally and personally to Phillips, who throughout his career as an administrator has shown a keen eye for identifying and promoting young coaching talent.

His run at Clemson was not without its missteps; but when all is said and done, he’ll be a tough act to follow.

© 2012 OrangeAndWhite.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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