Just like a typical spring afternoon in Clemson, SC, today was a wonderful day for Clemson fans. It wasn't oppressively hot, and there were just enough clouds in the sky so that we didn't get fried, but most of all, we were allowed to congregate in the Valley for an event that is truly remarkable - Clemson Football.
I think the Orange and White Game provided fans with a glimpse of the man on the Tiger roster who is going to replace the great Rod Gardner as our go-to guy. Over the last 2 years, when our team has needed yardage in a tight situation, we went to Rod, who by the way is projected to be a top 10 NFL draft pick by most experts. If today's performance was any indication, the heir-apparent is clearly Kevin Youngblood, the 6'5" 210 lb. wideout from the same high school as Rod Gardner in Jacksonville, Florida. Kevin hauled in 11 receptions for 142 yards, and he produced on 3rd down when the offense needed yardage.
In fact, Kevin reminded me a lot of Rod in that he has a big, athletic frame that seems to have the ability to get open whenever he wants to. Plus, he poses a tremendous deep threat, as Willie Simmons and Kevin Youngblood hooked up on a fade route along the south sideline where the ball was absolutely thrown perfectly by Simmons.
That's another point that needs to be made - Willie Simmons looked incredibly sharp today, making several clutch throws with tremendous accuracy. The two other wide receivers that looked remarkable today were Matt Bailey and Derrick Hamilton. Bailey really impressed me this afternoon, as he made several tough catches and showed evidence that he may be our #2 guy after Kevin Youngblood, or "Blood" as he is often called. Hamilton also got some work with the first team unit in the Y-slot position, and I think he's going to nail down a starting position by the time Central Florida comes to town. Hamilton is incredibly elusive, and Derrick is a dangerous option as our "safety valve" on certain passing plays, or when he stays on the line of scrimmage for a dump off pass if the quarterback's other options are covered.
The running game wasn't near as dominant today as it was on the scrimmage last Saturday. Keith Kelly really struggled to get things going, as he rushed 9 times on the day for a total of 10 yards. However, he's still a very talented back who has been much more impressive all spring than what he exhibited for the 20,000+ Clemson faithful in attendance.
Bernard Rambert had another solid outing today, as he busted on one occasion right up the gut for a 53-yard run. I love Rambert's running style, as he's a patient tailback that seems to accelerate at just the right time, picking his hole skillfully and that exploding with a burst of speed at the right moment.
Another back that had a solid day was Chad Jasmin, a redshirt sophomore fullback from Louisiana who has a knack for picking up tough yardage, especially in red zone situations. Don't be surprised to see Bowden use Jasmin a bunch inside the 20 and when opposing defenses start to tire.
Overall, I loved the look of our offense today, as we seemed to mirror the offense ran in the 1999 season under the leadership of Brandon Streeter. The chains kept moving steadily with a great controlled passing attack under Willie Simmons that's very difficult to defend without leaving a defense vulnerable to the big play. In fact, the long passes seemed to complement the short, controlled passing game and the running attack perfectly today. I'm really, really excited about what this offense will do next fall.
To say that the great offensive performance today equates to a shaky afternoon for the defense would be inaccurate. I was really pleased with our running defense - I don't know of any stop units in the ACC that could hold Keith Kelly to 10 yards rushing. Plus, Bernard Rambert's 53-yard strike came against the 2nd team defense.
Jovon Bush continues to show why he could very well provide the senior leadership that this team needs, as he seemed to make play after play this afternoon. It was refreshing to see the linebackers get a break every now and then from making the tackles with the solid play of Bush in the trenches.
Even though he played on the 2nd team $ safety position, John Leake looked incredible out there today, as he seems to remind me a bunch of Keith Adams in that he's always making plays and always around the ball. Plus, Leake showed his tremendous speed and athleticism when he intercepted a pass and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown, showing a great burst of speed down the south sidelines past everyone. It's not surprising that he has a 42-inch vertical jump when he showcases that kind of speed.
I'm really impressed with our defensive line play along the 1st team unit of DeJuan Polk, Jovon Bush, Khaleed Vaughn, and Bryant McNeal. This fall, the line should also instantly improve when it gets a boost from Nick Eason, who is still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, at the defensive tackle position opposite Jovon Bush. Let's just hope that no one gets injured.
With the transition of Eason to tackle, the only 2 battle-tested defensive ends that we have on roster are McNeal and Vaughn. So, who is filling in on the 2nd string defensive end position? JJ Howard, who has seen time at linebacker and tight end during his time at Clemson, and David Ellis, who was converted from linebacker this spring. Both of them are listed under 230 lbs., but I was pleasantly surprised by their play today on the line.
I finally got a glimpse of the new 4-2-5 defense today, as Braxton K. Williams, on a couple occasions, lined up as another defensive back whose job it was to eliminate the short pass for the wideouts. It immediately caught my eye when he didn't line up in the weakside linebacker position, as he typically does. By the way, Braxton K. looked solid today, especially on run support. Weighing just a shade over 200 lbs., Braxton Williams is much tougher against the run than most people would suspect. He's just a great football player who, along with Chad Carson, will pick up the slack for this defense in Keith Adams' departure.
The secondary actually looked pretty good, and I'm not saying that because I'm trying to be optimistic. I don't recall seeing any blown coverages, and the vast majority of the receptions made were almost undefendable, as Willie Simmons threaded the needle, leaving no room for error in tight coverage. Kevin Johnson played well, too, as he's shown why he's such a solid tackler throughout the course of the spring. Marcus Houskin also looked impressive, making a strong claim for the starting free safety position vacated by Robert Carswell. Houskin also picked up an interception on the day, corroborating my theory that he has a nose for the football.
Also, the defense seems much better equipped this year at stopping the big pass play, something that haunted last year's stop unit. One fan next to me even remarked, "Hey, isn't it refreshing to see our defense backs never get behind the receivers?" I had to agree - it's almost as if Reggie Herring has righted the weaker areas of our defense from last year by having more disciplined, conservative play from our DB's this year. It was indeed refreshing. Plus, the coverage was extremely tight by our DB's, as most of the wide receivers caught and hung on to the ball at the same instant that our defensive backs hit them.
Even though the offense had 3 interceptions on the day - one by Houskin, one by John Leake on a dropped pass by Jeff Scott, and another by Chad Carson on a deflected pass - none of the interceptions were thrown by Willie Simmons, which is a good sign.
Finally, most Clemson fans breathed a sigh of relief within the first 10 minutes of the scrimmage, when Aaron Hunt kicked a 50-yard field goal. I have to agree that it would be nice to have a reliable field goal kicker, something that Tiger fans know has been a long time coming.
I think this year could be a good one, Tiger fans. It should also be interesting once the freshmen arrive in August. Bowden has already stated that he wouldn't be surprised if 2 freshmen emerged into starting roles on both sides of the ball. Well, that's the end of spring practice - I hope you fellow Tiger fans have enjoyed my coverage of the team. I know I sure did!!!!!
Or if you have questions or comments, you can drop Brandon an email at the following address:
Spring Practice Report - Orange & White Game
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