Brandon Ford, young players looking to fill Dwayne Allen's shoes

Clemson's Brandon Ford runs after making a catch against N.C. State.

Clemson's Brandon Ford runs after making a catch against N.C. State.

— When Dwayne Allen declared for the NFL draft in January, he left a large void in Danny Pearman’s Clemson tight ends room.

Allen’s 2011 was the best season in Clemson tight end history; he set records for catches, yardage and touchdowns and won the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end.

“With the three-back position in Coach ( Chad) Morris’ offense, that’s the nightmare guy that you try to find. A guy like Dwayne is an atypical guy in that he’s big enough that you can attach him to the end of the line, you can flex him out.

“You have come at him with a linebacker when they substitute from a nickel standpoint, not a DB. You can line him up in the backfield, he can lead block, he can carry the ball, catch the ball. A pretty good athlete. It’s one of the harder positions to recruit to.”

Replacing Allen starts with senior Brandon Ford, but it doesn’t end there.

Pearman expects Ford to be a solid force in Clemson’s offense, but the Tigers also need several of a group of young reserves to step forward and make a difference this fall.

Sam Cooper, Darrell Smith, Stanton Seckinger, Eric Mac Lain and incoming freshman Jay Jay McCullough could all contribute behind Ford, who must be a veteran leader.

“Dwayne turned into a vital part of the offense last year, and Brandon’s got a big torch to carry,” Pearman said. “He’s also got some goals out ahead of him… not only from a playing standpoint, from a leadership role, everything that’s encompassing being a good player. We’re excited about it, and we look forward for him taking over that role.”

Ford signed with Clemson as a wide receiver, but moved to tight end midway through the 2010 season. He has gradually put on weight and is now listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, turning himself into a versatile force.

“He’s improved quite a bit (at blocking) from where he first came when we moved him to tight end,” Pearman said. “He’d never done that, so he started off as a wiling guy, a guy who was willing to compete. That’s important to him and he’s dependable. I think those qualities moved to tight end. He bought into it, worked on it. He’s improved quite a bit from this spring.”

Pearman said that Seckinger, Cooper, Mac Lain and Smith could all have opportunities to contribute this fall.

Seckinger also came to Clemson as a wide receiver, but was converted to tight end in spring following a redshirt season. Morris said he could follow a similar path, if not better, since he moved to the position earlier in his career.

“He’s never done this,” Pearman said. “He’s gotten in there, he’s bought into this, he’s busted his tail in the weight room. His weight’s not up there very high right now but it doesn’t have to be. He’s a quick guy, it’s important to him, he learns quick on the run. He’ll be a viable receiver, and he’ll be a weapon at the line of scrimmage for us.”

Smith does not have a career catch and had only one offensive snap last season after getting 53 as a freshman.

“Darrell Smith’s probably been our most consistent guy, Darrell’s been consistent since he’s come here,” Pearman said. “He’s been our special teams guy, been on all those teams, he’s done a good job in that area and it’s carried over. He doesn’t’ have a great role, but a very important role similar to Chad Diehl for us.”

Cooper had one reception for 18 yards last season in 54 snaps, and struggled with injuries to his ankle and shoulder in spring. Pearman said he’s had a good summer and “grabbed the bull by the horns.”

“His best thing is point of attack blocking,” Pearman said. “He needs to work on route running some, but he does do a nice job catching the ball.”

Pearman said Mac Lain also needs to work on his route running. McCullough played tailback in high school, giving him the athleticism Morris and Pearman covet in their system.

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