Ready for action

CUTigers recently talked extensively with starting center Dalton Freeman, and he has plenty of thoughts about this freshman class, summer workouts, Tajh Boyd and much more.

Recently had the opportunity to talk with Clemson redshirt junior center Dalton Freeman, who is widely considered to be one of the top offensive linemen in the ACC.

Among the topics of conversation? The talented incoming freshmen who already seem to be ahead of the game in summer workouts, his thoughts on Tajh Boyd and last season, plus the move to the new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris.

Freeman started nine of the 14 games in 2009 and was the first freshman to serve as Clemson's starting center over the course of the season since 1943.

Since then, he's emerged as one of the top centers in the ACC, if not the country.

Here's a look at what Dalton, a native of Pelion, S.C., had to say:

There seems to be a buzz on campus surrounding these freshmen who are already on campus. Do you get that sense and what have these guys looked like in offseason workouts?
Freeman: There's definitely a buzz around campus. Mike Bellamy - he is one of the busiest kids I've ever seen. I say kid, but he's actually a grown man. They all come from great high school programs and that makes a big difference in our offseason workouts with Coach Batson and now the skills and drills which is basically a practice led by the seniors.

Those kids came in and jumped in and there's no looking back. They are killing it out there. I've been so impressed with so many of our guys. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but these guys have the potential to play this year and maybe even start. That's been the expectation on our end, but do you see that out there with your own eyes?
Freeman: Correct. You know, they don't know what they are doing just yet, but you watch them and it's obvious that their athleticism and their potential is there. You watch them run routes, catch balls and accelerate through their cuts, it's unbelievable. We haven't seen that since Jacoby Ford and some of those other guys have been here.

"You watch them run routes, catch balls and accelerate through their cuts, it's unbelievable. We haven't seen that since Jacoby Ford and some of those other guys have been here."

For the fans that don't know about summer workouts, what is it like for the players?
Freeman: The summer is really a time for us to polish things up and get ready for camp. It's about getting in shape and getting ready for the grind season. We play 12 games, of course we hope to play 14, including the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl. So you are planning on 15 weeks, including the off-week, so that's a ton of time. Summer is designed to get you ready for all of that.

We'll go five days a week. We come in do an extensive warm up. Of course we lift heavy in summer I and then we go out and run. Summer II is more for speed. Summer I is built to add mass. I tell you what, we are all in great shape right now and I think you can thank Coach Morris for that. (laughing) The running has increased dramatically. I'm not really built for the conditioning part of things. But we've always been in good shape. The games are always in slow motion because we are in such great shape and what we do during the offseason.

Were you guys on the offensive line trying to lose weight intentionally this offseason to adjust to his new offense under Chad Morris?
Freeman: Well, I've been very fortunate in the fact that my weight really hasn't fluctuated. I've always been in pretty good shape. If anything I've probably tried to gain weight. I played about 285 last year and I'm about 290 right now. Some of our bigger guys I think they are definitely more conscious about their weight and they are work with our nutritionist more and slim down because we are hoping to be on the field 80 or 90 plays a game. It's definitely going to be a transition. But as we go on, we are getting more used to it and the summer conditioning has gone very well. I think we are in the best shape we've ever been. They brought back some of the old running tests that they used to do back in the day. It's kind of the similar thing to what Coach Rodriguez did so they brought some of that back. It's been a good change.

We have heard Landon Walker has dropped maybe 25 to 30 pounds since this move to this new offense. What's he doing to slim down like that?
Freeman: Well it's kind of funny you see guys that are going into their senior year ... first off Landon has always been dedicated and a motivated player. But you see guys coming into their senior year and they feel like they have a chance to get drafted and everything gets much more serious to them. That kind of has happened with Landon. He's always worked hard but he's 100 percent dedicated himself (this offseason). He started working with our nutritionist more - eating the right way and living the right way. You know, cutting back on fast foods and sodas. He's about 295 right now and he played at about 315 last year. So for him, it's going to be a lot easier going 80-90 plays at 20 pounds lighter.

So let's assume you are on the field this season for 80 plays as Clemson's center. Do you like that much action as an offensive lineman? Is that a good thing?
Freeman: Well first off, if you are the field that many plays the other team can't score and we win. So I'm all for that. I would love to have the ball 80 plays a game and really control it and have momentum. I will say, after a long drive and the defense gets an interception and we are back out there it's a little bit tiring (laughing). And we kind of pray for a touchdown on the first or second play. That was always nice with C.J. back there. But I tell you what, we get Andre Ellington back 100 percent now and there's no telling. Not to mention these freshmen. There's definitely going to be big-play potential in this offense.

Freeman has started each of the last 22 games and has played 26 in a row entering this year. He had 58 knockdown blocks last year, second on the team, when he started all 13 games. He allowed just two sacks all year and had an 80.6 average film grade from the Clemson coaching staff. He also made first-team Academic All-ACC last year. (Roy Philpott)
Dalton I've said throughout this offseason, if Andre Ellington is healthy, and given the fact four of five starters are back up front and the number of plays you guys want to run, he should be in major contention for ACC Player of the Year honors. Do you agree?
Freeman: There's no question about it. Everybody could see his potential a year ago. He's a special kind of player. He hits the hole so fast and he's not scared of anybody. He's not really a small guy anymore either. His upper body has exploded. Coach Batson really took him under his wing during this whole toe thing. They focused on his upper body. I tell you what, he looks like a super model walking around.

With the pace of the offense, do you still make all of those checks and calls? Obviously you don't have much time anymore to do what you've done in the past.
Freeman: Right. There's a big change, especially with Coach Scott stepping into an administrative role and Coach Caldwell stepping in as our new offensive line coach. There's change there. And then of course with Coach Morris and this new offense there's more change. It is very fast-paced. As soon as the whistle is blown or the ball is dead we are running to the ball and looking at the sideline looking for the play and getting the ball and rolling. There's not near as much communication so it does take a little bit off of me. But on the same end, it's a little more pressure because you have to do it that much faster and get things rolling.

Reading preseason publications this summer, I get the impression you guys are under the radar compared to previous years. In your estimation, and knowing you guys aren't paying a ton of attention to that kind of stuff at the same time, is that a good thing for this team right now?
Freeman: We like to be the underdog. We like to prove people wrong. It is somewhat comforting to be in the other spot too- projected to win. At the same time you, you know, are afraid you'll let people down. So we try to tune all of that out. Go into work and do the best we can and get better each and every day. That's our motto is to get better today. If you get better every day the cumulative effect will add up and everything else take care of itself.

"Getting better every day" - what does that mean for you as Clemson's starting center?
Freeman: It's all the above. From the time you wake up - the choices you make from eating, drinking, sleeping, how you work in the weight room. It's all about the choices you make and how determined you are to be the best.

Tajh Boyd- how has he looked so far this summer? How is everything going with him?
Freeman: He's doing very well. He's taken it upon himself to try and make himself the best he can be. I know that's obviously a big question mark for all the fans out there. But for the players, we knew he'd be OK. He has not let us down. He's been in there watching film for countless hours. Every time I go in there, I see Tajh. He's a constant. He's trying to learn something new every day. I've seen him watch film on South Carolina- the team we play at the very end of the year. He's gone through every team. He's broken down everything. He's tried to get tips. It's been amazing. There's no question he has the want-to. Physically he's done well with Coach Batson. It's going to be a lot of fun to see with this new freshmen coming in. I just don't know if we are going to have enough balls to get all of them.

"None of us came to Clemson to be 6-7. None of us came here to be part of a losing progam. That's not what Clemson is about. We aren't going to leave our legacy as a losing program. We definitely have a bitter taste in our mouth and we've done everything this offseason to try and get ready to remove that this year."

Give me the details here. Can he throw the skinny post? Has he shown good touch on the ball with his deeper throws?
Freeman: It's awesome. It's a little bit different when you put on pads, but he's looked great. His timing has had to be adjusted because we haven't this kind of speed in a while. He's had to throw the ball earlier ... before guys make their cuts instead of when they are making their cuts. That's been an adjustment but he's doing well. I don't think it's a big a question mark as people are trying to make it out to be.

If memory serves me correctly, it seems like there was some center-quarterback exchange problems early in spring practice. How much have you two worked on that to make sure there no issues when the season starts?
Freeman: Well we've obviously made it important. We haven't over-worked it because it's all about timing and that will come. I think, honestly, Tajh coming into the spring was a little bit nervous. He was antsy. He wanted to get going and look at the defense and didn't want to let Coach Morris down. It took him a couple of weeks to get as comfortable with the new offense like he was with the old one. Once that happened he was fine. And he's going to be fine.

You look at Tulsa's offense a year ago under Chad Morris and the quarterback was the leading rusher. Tajh is going to have to run the ball this year, isn't he? Just because this is the spread doesn't mean you guys throw it everywhere all the time.
Freeman: You are definitely correct on that. There's a lot in his hands because there are so many reads he can make off of any given play. There's so much we can do off of one play and it's so much fun. You guys will see that this fall. But you are right, he has to run the ball better. He's gotten better with his pocket presence goes. When he was younger he would sit back and as soon as things fall apart he would take off. He's more patient now. But as far as running plays go, he will have to stick his nose up there and get a little more dirty. You know, the big thing is too we have more weapons this year. When Andre Ellington went out last year we became very one-dimensional. This year we have many different weapons and options and big play potential. And that's going to take pressure off of him.

How much of a motivating factor is last year and the 6-7 record? Is kind of a sour taste in your mouth this summer?
Freeman: None of us came to Clemson to be 6-7. None of us came here to be part of a losing program. That's not what Clemson is about. We aren't going to leave our legacy as a losing program. We definitely have a bitter taste in our mouth and we've done everything this offseason to try and get ready to remove that this year. Top Stories