ACC: Clemson Tigers

ACC Friday mailblog

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Hope everyone has a Happy Easter ...

JD in State College, Pa., writes: Where do you think Pitt sophomores James Conner and Tyler Boyd rank among ACC running back/wide receiver combos?

HD: I'm looking at every team in the league and it's tough to find one that compares. Some of them have half the equation, such as Jamison Crowder at Duke. But when you consider that Clemson has to replace its leading rusher and top two receivers from a year ago, FSU lost Kelvin Benjamin, James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman ... Pitt has to be near the top -- if not No. 1 -- and last season was only the beginning for them. Based on potential, though, they could be surpassed by Miami's combo of Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley, especially with Johnson healthy again. And don't forget that FSU reloads. Karlos Williams and Rashad Greene could state their case. Here's a sleeper for you: UNC's T.J. Logan and Quinshad Davis. Logan drew rave reviews from the coaching staff this spring.


Tim in Blacksburg writes: HD, did you say no hope for Virginia Tech on offense!? The QB spot is up in the air, and in transition -- no doubt. Michael Brewer should have a say in that spot when he arrives. Beyond that however, your analysis of the offense is lacking, to say the least. The OL should be much improved this year. Have you seen Augie Conte and Wyatt Teller... Alston Smith... and it's the most experienced group we've seen in a number of years. Our top tight end, who missed all of last year -- returns, as does Kalvin Cline and newcomer to the position Bucky Hodges. BTW, have you seen Bucky Hodges? Bucky has a chance to be a HUGE playmaker for VT. The run game needs a big-time boost in production. That may be by committee again this year between [Trey] Edmunds, [J.C.] Coleman and newcomer Marshawn Williams, who has been turning heads and nearly breaking them so far this spring.

HD: No hope? I'd never say no hope. Hapless maybe, but not hopeless. Here's the scoop on VT's offense this spring: The Hokies are better everywhere on offense this spring. Every position is deeper and better. Except quarterback. It's still a huge question, and one that won't be answered until this summer when the entire roster is practicing. There's plenty of talent on that roster, but until they find an answer at quarterback, I'm not picking them to win the Coastal Division.


Josh in Palm Bay, Fla., writes: The other day, you were talking about Clemson as the best defense in the ACC. I was shocked that you would take such a stand for them! You saw they got flat-out destroyed in many games last year despite how good they played in their previous bowl vs LSU, I believe? FSU lost a few players, true, but in some cases, their replacements might be better (not [Timmy] Jernigan's). The new DC last year didn't stop us with a whole new system; a new DC this year with the same system won't either. Sorry ACC, Dabo, HD, AD... gonna still be a fantastic D at FSU, still gonna be better than Clemson, and still gonna be doubters, I guess!

HD: Yep, I'm pretty sure I said that one, though technically I think I said it could be the best D in the ACC, even better than Florida State's. Look, I know everyone is not used to Clemson's defense being a strength, just like you're not used to Duke being a contender in the Coastal Division race, but stay with me here. FSU's defensive line has been depleted in the past two years by the NFL draft, whereas Clemson's defensive line finally has a veteran look. I'm not going to make too much out of the turnover at the coordinator position because there's still continuity there for the Seminoles, but Clemson enters this fall with fewer questions on defense.


Jeremy Lambert in South Hill, Va., writes: Virginia's basketball success in recent years has clearly demonstrated the school's athletics potential across the board. Its resources to attract talent and fan support are on display for all to see in the basketball program. Having said that, UVa's football woes are extremely frustrating to watch. Its failures are excruciating. It is difficult for me to point to a specific factor, but it is hard to think that a lot of the Hoos' football woes could not be solved by having a good quarterback. Matt Schaub -- 10 years ago -- was the last good quarterback Virginia had. What is it about Virginia's program that a good quarterback is not compelled to commit to playing there? Or should Virginia's expectations be lower than I think?

HD: I don't think the overall expectations should be lower -- but maybe the expectations about routinely bringing in an elite quarterback should be. Granted, much of Virginia's woes can be traced to inconsistency, indecisiveness and underwhelming performances from that position. But look across the ACC, not to mention college football, and how often does a Matt Ryan come along? Philip Rivers? There are more of the likes of Logan Thomas, Chase Rettig and Tanner Price. You're right that UVa football is capable of more than what we've seen, especially with the increased commitment to facilities, recruiting and staff salaries. It should be a regular bowl-bound team, and every now and then make some noise in the Coastal Division race, but is it going to be the next Clemson? Probably not.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
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Wishing everybody a great holiday weekend!
Scottie Montgomery returned to Duke last year from an NFL world where quarterbacks were never, ever hit in practice.

So when his quarterbacks started begging him to go live this spring, his first reaction was, ‘No way!’ He was in protection mode, the way he was as a Steelers assistant. But veterans Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette persisted, and he slowly relented -- only a few times, and with clear instructions to the defense.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Jimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Phil SearsFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher had Jameis Winston go live last spring when he was dueling Jacob Coker for the starting job.
“My initial feel is, ‘Don't ever let anybody get touched, so I have to fight myself at times, because I want to protect these guys and these guys want to compete for jobs,” said Montgomery, the offensive coordinator.

His is a dilemma that many coaches across the league have faced this spring. Do you allow your quarterbacks to get hit in practice to help simulate game situations and foster competition, knowing you have increased their injury risk? Or do you never even broach the subject because the priority should always be to protect the quarterback?

Four ACC teams allowed their quarterbacks to go live at some point during spring practice, more than any other power-five league. Clemson did it for the first time under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, believing he would see more out of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson ended up getting hurt and missing the spring game.

Florida State allowed its younger quarterbacks to go live this spring. Coach Jimbo Fisher said he did the same last year, when Jameis Winston was a redshirt freshman competing to win the starting job.

“They’ve got to be able to feel things around them and react,” Fisher said. “They get in a false security blanket sometimes.”

Does that cause him extra worry?

“It’s no different than when we run the running backs, and I get nervous in the scrimmages when the backs are running and get tackled,” Fisher said. “Our guys know if they’ve got a kill shot, not to. There’s a certain limit of how we practice with each other. You know those shots that everyone wants to have? We won’t take those on each other even if we’re in a live scrimmage because it’s not productive to the organization. Tough to me is when you’re eyeball to eyeball, not when a guy’s exposed and you can do that.”

The coaches are not the only ones who wrestle with the idea. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not live this spring. But when he was competing for the starting job at Florida with Jeff Driskel back in 2012, both were allowed to go live early on in fall practice. The first day they were allowed to take hits, Driskel hurt his shoulder.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail/Mark CrammerClemson freshman Deshaun Watson was injured in practice and missed the spring game.
“There's a right time and wrong time for quarterbacks to be live,” Brissett said. “We haven't done live practices, but in the fall sometimes we will have a live scrimmage on a Saturday. It helps out with the game speed reps.”

For a running quarterback such as Brissett, that helps. Same for the Duke quarterbacks. Georgia Tech has its quarterbacks live during practice for that reason.

Some coaches believe going live helps separate the competition. But Clemson was the only school with an open quarterback competition to allow its quarterbacks to go live during scrimmage situations. North Carolina, for example, has Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battling to win the starting job, but offensive coordinator Seth Littrell does not believe it is necessary to allow quarterbacks to get hit. “I’ve never done it,” he said.

Virginia Tech also is in the middle of an intense competition, but quarterbacks have been off limits so far this spring. Veteran Mark Leal would have no problem if the coaches changed their minds.

“Honestly, I'd like to be live,” he said. “I think the rest of the quarterbacks would, too, because it gives more of a game feel. If you're not live, sometimes the whistle gets blown early when you don't think you should have been sacked or the play gets messed up because when there's a rush around you, the first thing the coaches want to do is blow the whistle, rather than you continue to play or go through your reads and progressions and finish the play.”

Depth concerns often dictate what coaches do. Pitt only had two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, so there was no way they were going live. Virginia Tech only has three quarterbacks on the roster this spring.

Still, all the protections most coaches take are not enough to keep their quarterbacks injury-free. Miami quarterbacks were off limits this spring, but Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage.

It was a noncontact injury.
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The Freedom From Religion Foundation has lodged a letter of complaint to Clemson, charging coach Dabo Swinney and his staff with "unconstitutional behavior" at the public university.

Among the concerns outlined in the complaint by the FFRF, based on information obtained from an open records request: Swinney personally invited James Trapp to become team chaplain, in violation of the Constitution and university guidelines on hiring chaplains; the coach schedules team devotionals and has organized transportation to take coaches and players to "Church Days;" and has given Trapp access to the entire team for Bible studies.

University spokeswoman Cathy Sams issued a statement saying the school would evaluate the complaints raised but believes Swinney and his staff are not violating the Constitution.

"Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so," the statement said. "We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities."

Swinney is not being made available to comment, but he has been outspoken in his religious views. In December, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Swinney tells recruits on visits, "I'm a Christian. If you have a problem with that, you don't have to be here."

The report itself presents in great detail how religion and the program are entwined.

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April, 17, 2014
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Well, this rule ought to make games more interesting.
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Former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly, who was dismissed from the team this week, apologized for his behavior, according to the Associated Press.

It was a family affair, as Kelly issued a statement Wednesday through his uncle, Dan Kelly, the vice president of Jim Kelly Inc. Chad Kelly is a nephew of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly.

According to the Associated Press, Kelly said he apologized to Clemson's coaches and said he let "emotions get the best of me."

Kelly was benched in the second half of Clemson's spring game last week after arguing with the coaches over their decision to punt on a fourth-and-short. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney confirmed he will name Cole Stoudt as the team's starting quarterback next Monday.

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April, 16, 2014
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Never forget.

ESPN 300: Top ACC targets 

April, 16, 2014
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With Wednesday’s release of the 2015 ESPN 300, here’s a look at five top ACC targets in the 2015 class.


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No surprise here: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says he will name veteran Cole Stoudt his starting quarterback.

Swinney confirmed the news to ESPN.com, shortly after he told Fox Sports, "He's a great leader who is highly respected by his teammates. He never once complained. He was always ready when we needed him. He's earned it and he will be named the starter."

The decision is a no-brainer. Swinney dismissed Chad Kelly from the program Monday for conduct detrimental to the team, leaving a three-way quarterback race down to Stoudt and true freshman Deshaun Watson. Stoudt has served as Tajh Boyd's backup over the last three seasons. Though he is not perceived to be as mobile as Boyd or Watson, Stoudt has earned this opportunity.

Now all that's left is making the most of it.
Two weeks ago, Chad Morris said he hoped the quarterback competition at Clemson would be cleared up by the end of spring, but certainly this isn’t what he had in mind.

Sophomore Chad Kelly was dismissed from the team Monday for what coach Dabo Swinney called, “conduct detrimental to the program,” after a sideline altercation between Kelly and coaches proved the last straw for the hot-headed QB.

“He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program,” Swinney said.

The personality conflicts come as no surprise to Clemson coaches, who hoped Kelly would mature throughout the QB battle this offseason, but that didn’t happen -- at least not at a rate fast enough for Swinney.

But Kelly’s dismissal couldn’t have been an easy decision. While senior Cole Stoudt and early enrollee Deshaun Watson are both capable alternatives, Morris gave Kelly every chance to win the job this spring -- even making scrimmages live for QBs so Kelly could showcase his mobility -- because his skill set was a closer fit for what the Tigers want to do offensively.

Morris said prior to Clemson’s first scrimmage of the spring that: “We have to be able to adapt to the personnel we have. If it’s Cole, he’s not quite the runner that Chad and Deshaun are, and we have to adapt to him. … If it’s Chad or Deshaun, you might be more zone-read than you are anything.”

Under Morris, Clemson has used QB runs effectively, and Kelly offered the Tigers their best chance to continue to do that.

Last season, only Maryland and Wake Forest (two of the ACC’s worst rushing offenses) had a higher percentage of their rushing yards come from quarterbacks. Only Duke and Maryland had a higher percentage of rushing touchdowns come from their quarterbacks. Mobility was important for Clemson, and Stoudt -- the presumed starter now -- doesn’t have much of it.

So what does that mean for the Tigers’ offense going forward?

As Morris indicated, the personnel and the playbook will need to be tweaked some to fit Stoudt’s skill set, but that doesn’t necessarily mean massive overhaul. While Tajh Boyd was an effective runner, a closer look at Morris’ play-calling shows that, even with a mobile QB, Clemson’s reliance on Boyd’s legs wasn’t excessive.

In 2013, Clemson’s QBs accounted for just 30 percent of the team’s rush attempts (not counting sacks), good for seventh in the ACC and well within the median group. Overall, just 14.6 percent of the Tigers’ total plays last year were QB runs -- roughly the same rate as NC State, UNC, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Duke. And those zone-reads Morris figured could be a crucial part of the playbook with Kelly at QB? According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was hardly a factor with Boyd running the show a year ago.

Yes, Clemson would’ve loved to have a quarterback who could make plays with both his feet and his arm, and Kelly certainly fit the bill. But in the end, the potential didn’t outweigh his combustible personality. And there’s no reason to assume the Tigers can’t win with a less nimble runner. After all, the four ACC teams that ran their quarterbacks the least in 2013 all made bowl games, including national champion Florida State. And while Clemson’s stable of running backs was beleaguered by injuries a year ago, the depth chart at the position projects as a serious strength for the Tigers’ offense in 2014.

And Kelly’s departure also assures one other thing: Watson, the freshman early enrollee who missed the spring game with a minor injury, won’t be redshirted this year. While Morris has suggested Watson has an uphill battle to master the playbook in time to win the starting job, Kelly’s loss virtually guarantees Watson will get routine playing time, and he’s more than capable of being that same dual-threat weapon in Clemson’s backfield. And given Watson’s profile as a star of the future, getting him on the field in small doses behind Stoudt could prove a major bonus in the long run.

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April, 15, 2014
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Boston strong.
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Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly introduced himself to fellow quarterback Cole Stoudt in unabashed fashion in January 2012, before he even put on a Tigers uniform:

"Your on the bench for a reason. And i come soon! Just letting you know," Kelly tweeted.

[+] EnlargeChad Kelly
Doug Buffington/Icon SMIFormer ESPN 300 recruit Chad Kelly has been dismissed from the Clemson football team.
Now he’s leaving, seemingly just as soon.

Kelly was kicked off the team on Monday “for conduct detrimental to the program.” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney referenced a “pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program.” In a twist of either irony or fate, Stoudt is now left as the undisputed front-runner to replace record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd as Clemson’s new starting quarterback this fall. Kelly’s career ended before it ever really started -- more snippets and quotes than snaps -- and what was once an intriguing three-man race this spring has ended with one healthy quarterback and an early enrollee freshman who is out with a broken collarbone.

The news comes just two days after a disastrous spring game performance in which Kelly wasn’t just outplayed by Stoudt, he was also benched for the entire second half after he gave the coaches an earful about opting to punt on a fourth-and-short. Kelly completed 10 of 18 passes for 113 yards and two interceptions, but was judged as much for his sideline demeanor and frustrations as he was the throw into double coverage. It's unfortunate, really, because what happened on Saturday wasn't indicative of Kelly's entire spring, which was good enough to keep it an interesting competition heading into summer camp. Stoudt, meanwhile, went 15-for-23 for 158 yards with two touchdown passes in the spring game.

And we’ve barely heard a peep from him about it.

With Kelly’s departure and the injury to freshman Deshaun Watson, who is expected to be healthy in time for summer camp, Clemson’s quarterback competition has essentially solved itself. The luxury to redshirt Watson is gone, and while the position’s depth took an unquestioned hit, it was a coaching decision that could wind up to be addition by subtraction. Clemson was looking for a leader as much as it was a starting quarterback, and they've found it in Stoudt. The overconfident Kelly, who has his own rap song, “Chad Kelly,” tweeted as a recruit that he wasn’t coming to Clemson “just to sit on the bench” and yet that’s exactly where he found himself in the second half on Tuesday.

Following the spring game, Kelly wasn’t made available to speak to reporters.

Apparently, he has said enough.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
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Bo Pelini is the cat's meow.

ACC spring games recap

April, 14, 2014
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Eight ACC teams wrapped up their spring seasons this past weekend, with games and open practices taking place from Pittsburgh all the way down to Miami. Here's a look at the biggest storylines from all of the action surrounding six of those teams. (Colleague Jared Shanker has plenty of Florida State content over on our Seminoles site, while our David Hale was in the house for the second spring of the Dave Doeren era at NC State.)

CLEMSON
The Tigers entered their spring game down one quarterback after Deshaun Watson injured his collarbone five days earlier, and fellow signal caller Chad Kelly might have simplified the QB battle for the coaching staff down the stretch -- just not in a good way. Kelly got himself benched for the second half after questioning a punting decision on fourth down in the second quarter. Cole Stoudt took advantage of the opening, completing 15 of 23 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns on a day that certainly did not hurt his chances at emerging atop the three-man race come August. Kelly, meanwhile, went 10-for-18 for 118 yards with two interceptions. The defense was credited with 14 sacks, though the quarterbacks weren't live. The White team beat the Orange team, 23-5, in front of a record 33,000.

LOUISVILLE
It's often too easy to draw general conclusions and overreact to what we all see during a team's main public display at the end of each spring. That is probably the case when looking at the Cardinals' Friday night fireworks. Redshirt sophomore Will Gardner threw for 542 yards and four touchdowns, leading the offense to 951 total yards and 11 touchdowns. Most of it came against the second-team defense, which underscored the feeling exiting 2013: The secondary is in need of some depth, especially after losing Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. Is Bobby Petrino's first offense that good? Is his secondary that bad? Probably somewhere in between, though roughly 27,500 were entertained.

MIAMI
The defense was the main storyline ever since the end of the 2013 season, though Ryan Williams' ACL tear last week brought a new concern to the forefront. Still, the Hurricanes had to be pleased with how Mark D'Onofrio's unit performed on Saturday, with safeties Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford leading the way with five tackles apiece. The defense won the game, 61-60, thanks to an unconventional scoring system. And, more importantly, it held Miami's new quarterbacks in check, with Kevin Olsen going just 7-of-21 for 65 yards and a pick and Gray Crow going 9-of-20 for 63 yards and a pick. Juwon Young and Tracy Howard came up with the interceptions.

NORTH CAROLINA
Quarterbacks took center stage in Chapel Hill as well, with neither incumbent Marquise Williams nor challenger Mitch Trubisky offering much in way of clarity. Williams completed 22 of 32 passes for 135 yards and an interception. Trubisky went 20-for-32 for 183 yards and an interception. Larry Fedora liked the decision-making from both of his signal callers on Saturday and knows he has two capable signal-callers, but he isn't offering any public hints about who his guy will likely be come this fall. The Blue team, by the way, beat the White team, 38-17.

VIRGINIA
The defense (Blue) dominated the injury-depleted offense (White), coming up with four interceptions and nine total sacks (albeit two-hand touch sacks). Greyson Lambert looked like the best of the Cavaliers' quarterbacks, completing 18 of 31 passes for 220 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. Incumbent David Watford went just 4-of-14 for 31 yards with two picks, while Matt Johns completed 6 of his 19 throws for 43 yards. Lambert and the Virginia coaching staff attributed the redshirt sophomore's improved play to a clear head, as he has taken pressure off himself this time around and looks like the front-runner, as he was voted one of four captains by teammates, along with Anthony Harris, Henry Coley and Kevin Parks. He was also one of 13 players -- and the only quarterback -- named to the leadership council.

PITT
The Panthers drew plenty of attention early for announcing that they would not hold a traditional spring game. Still, their "Field Pass" event on Sunday at its South Side headquarters drew more than 3,000 who came and listened to presentations from defensive coordinator Matt House, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej and recruiting coordinator Dann Kabala. A big theme around Pitt this spring has been the program's youth, but that storyline moved closer and closer toward its depth, which has been tested lately with injuries to running backs James Conner (sprained left knee) and Isaac Bennett (sprained left shoulder), who will have surgery but is expected to return in time for fall camp. Pitt held its 14th spring practice before Sunday's fan event and will conclude its spring season Tuesday.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
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Enjoy the weekend, gang.

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