Turning up the tempo

CLEMSON - Chad Morris' smash-mouth spread offense makes its Clemson debut on Friday afternoon when the Tigers open spring practice.

Up first on the docket for the first-year offensive coordinator from Tulsa, establishing the pace of play.

"I'm going to push them well out of their comfort zone," Morris said. "They may think they're getting comfortable and think they've got a grasp of it—I'm going to push them a little harder.

"I want them to give me just a little bit more than what they think they can really do. I'm going to tax them pretty good, in a positive way."

But there's no great rush to install the entire offense over the next month. As he said during his introductory press conference in January, Morris wouldn't be opposed to having only a handful of plays installed this spring, just as long as they're executed to perfection.

"It's can we get the basics established? Can we develop a swagger, from an offensive standpoint? Can we develop an identity in ourselves? Can we get good at something? That's what I'm committed to," he said. "We will get good at something. We will have a swagger about ourselves when we step on the field."

That swagger starts with the quarterbacks. Tajh Boyd, the most experienced of the Tigers' signal callers, is expected to take over as the starter.

Morris noted that Boyd and freshmen Cole Stoudt and Tony McNeal will be working from the same foundation.

"They're all learning at the same level. It's a level playing field for every one of them, seniors, juniors, all the way down to these guys that just walked in the door," Morris said. "It is a level playing field. I think that's where I come in. I think that's where me, as a play-caller and me as a coordinator, if you see or sense that we've got too much on them we're trying to do too much too early, then you slow down, you back up."

Over the last couple of months since his arrival, he believes Boyd's taken ownership of the position. But there's a long way to go, especially once things get underway on the field.

"He's like every other kid out here. He thinks he knows. He's got an idea that he knows what I'm asking," Morris said. "Until he gets onto the field, for me to try to explain to him, it's going to be a little tough. He senses it."

As for who the backup will be, Morris said he has "an idea" of which quarterback is in line to win the job behind Boyd.

"We've got a couple of guys that have been here that have walked on. I haven't seen much film of those guys. Cole Stoudt and Tony McNeal are two others that came in January. They both, in their own ways, have impressed," he said. "Also, in their own ways, have shown that they're true freshmen. If you think about it, they should be going to the prom in about a month or so. Those guys sacrificed that and came in.

"I've got an idea, but I'm not going to share that…I don't want to disappoint the kid that I don't think is. It is an open competition. It's going to be fun to watch those guys, as well as several other positions."

Boyd and center Dalton Freeman will be charged with controlling the tempo.

"The center is going to control the offensive line and the pace that they get set. If the center's dragging, he's going to slow everybody down. It starts with that guy," Morris said. "I think we all know Dalton Freeman is an unbelievable center. We've got most of those guys back, which is a good thing."

The offensive line was the most impressive group that he encountered during the winter mat drills. As a whole, Morris said the group is emerging as some of the team's strongest leaders.

The backs that will be running behind them aren't nearly as experienced.

With Andre Ellington still on the shelf recovering from a foot injury, Roderick McDowell, D.J. Howard and Demont Buice are the top three returning running backs to start the spring. McDowell is the only one of those three with any college experience.

"It's an opportunity right now for these guys to step forward, make a name for themselves and catch my eye," Morris said. "I think, obviously Ellington not being in and [Mike] Bellamy is still just going to be a true freshman coming into this thing, we've got some guys right now, we've got some opportunities to build some depth."

One other name could be added to that list of ball carriers.

"Being able to bring a guy in motion and hand him the football. A [wide receiver] like Joe Craig, to utilize his speed, you might see Joe Craig at tailback in some of our sets. You may see him all over the field," Morris said. "That's one thing about this offense that really is different than some traditional. We'll put a guy all over the field."

With so much wide receiver talent set to arrive later this summer, it's important for those that are already here to make a big splash.

"I think, from a receiver standpoint, we've got some guys at the receiver position that's going to have an opportunity to make an impact this spring, to get noticed this spring," Morris said. "Do I think we have some guys in here that can do it? Absolutely. We have some guys that have just been waiting for this opportunity."

Morris believes his wide receiver run up to 4.5 miles during any given practice.

"If they can get through the first practices without oxygen, then they're going to be alright for the spring," he said.

There will be a tight end/H-back on the field about 90 percent of the time. Dwayne Allen, Chad Diehl, Brandon Ford, Darrell Smith and Sam Cooper are all candidates to serve in that role.

"We've got to establish what we do. We've got to develop an identity," Morris said. "We've got to have a tough, physical approach to our self. We're going to start that process [Friday]."

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