Pro prospects: Tigers' talent mostly on offense

jkendall@thestate.comNovember 23, 2012 

Clemson's Andre Ellington makes a first down against the University of South Carolina in the first half at William-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C..

C. ALUKA BERRY — caberry@thestate.com

In this week’s chat with Rotoworld.com NFL Draft writer Josh Norris (@JoshNorris on Twitter), we talk about Clemson. Mostly, we talk about the Tigers’ offense and the problems it can pose for South Carolina.

There’s a lot of talent, particularly on the offensive side of the football, up there isn’t there?

Absolutely, and you have to start at running back for Clemson. Andre Ellington, to me, is the top senior running back in the country. The senior group has kind of been lacking this year, but Ellington has been very good this year with that zone blocking and slashing style. He reads backside lanes. He reads upfield lanes. He reads everything. What he does so well is that he cuts right off his blocker’s backside. You look at him, and he’s lean. He’s about 5-10 and 190 pounds, and he gets skinny through the lane, but then, if you go all the way back to the first week to Auburn when they played them, he took some big hits, just bounced off of them, put his hand in the dirt and accelerated right through there. That kind of patience and that kind of cutting ability lends itself very well to screen passes, too. Let’s say the South Carolina defensive line can really get after this weak, and it’s been weak for years now, this weak Clemson offensive line, watch out for a lot of screens. And not just screens to Ellington but screens to the wide receivers as well, and even the tight ends. I can see fakes on both sides, a fake screen to the receiver and then off the other way to the running back or vice versa.

Then we’ll go straight to the junior in Tajh Boyd. Last year, and going into this year, I thought he was pretty bad, but he lost about 15 pounds, and I don’t know if anyone has improved more in the country at any position. It’s remarkable. He’s got an arm. Obviously, he’s not very tall, but he just made so many mistakes. He just looked so jittery (last year). This year, he is stepping up. Every single game, and you’ll probably see it this week, it looks like he is sacked so many times and last year he would have been sacked in those situations, but he’s getting out of it, either getting rid of the ball or evading the pressure. I know there has been a lot of talk about his downfield arm strength and his velocity, and I think that’s been very good. With these two receivers, he really just has to throw it up and see if they can make a play for you.

Then we’ll go to DeAndre Hopkins, a 6-1, 200-pound junior receiver who with (Sammy) Watkins out at the beginning of the year, it was like a step hadn’t been lost. He really was (dominant). I think Hopkins is best at going up and getting the ball in those contested situations, and he’s done that very well. He’s not this huge, 6-3, 6-4 Alshon Jeffery that can go up and get it, but he uses his vertical and high points and times it very well, and he also has that after catch ability with the straight line speed. Being able to use a guy like that vertically and then at the line of scrimmage on screens is something that’s really beneficial for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if he declares. I think he and Boyd may be a package deal. Not because they are best friends. I don’t even know if they are friends, but just because it’d be tough for one to leave (and the other stay).

Then we’ll just quickly go to the tight end Brandon Ford. I don’t really have a lot to say with him, but they really utilize him a lot more in the red zone. Last week, I think they ran two plays right in a row just for him. With these receivers stretching the field, you have to watch out for Ford in the red zone specifically.

And then Dalton Freeman, I think he’s still at center. I think they might have moved him to tackle at some point. I mean, he is what he is. Nothing overwhelming, but he’s consistent, and they need a lot more than that.

And then I just have one guy on their defense, and he hasn’t really showed up until this week, but it’s Malliciah Goodman, the defensive end, he’s about 6-4, 280. He showed off a bend around the edge last week that I hadn’t seen much of in the previous weeks. He’s a big guy obviously, and he needs to use his length and his power a lot more. Once his momentum is stopped at the beginning, he doesn’t really have a counter move.

I think the real battle is Clemson’s offense against South Carolina’s defense. I keep going back to (D.J.) Swearinger and guys like that, but it’s all about not letting these guys behind you, being that last line of defense and making that sure tackle. It’s going to be a fun game to watch.

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