Spence Optimistic About Tight Ends

CLEMSON – When Rob Spence was first hired as the new Clemson offensive coordinator, he made it perfectly clear that the tight end plays a very important and wide-ranging role in his style of offense. And with the exception of Bobby Williamson moving from defense to offense, very little has been written or said about the position – until now. <BR>

CUTigers.com caught up Spence after practice Monday to get an update on the progress at that position.

"The tight end position is actually a very pleasant surprise," he said in a one-on-one interview. "What was a tremendous concern for me coming here is something that I feel quite good about after 12 practices. I think there's enough talent here to build a foundation at that position.

"I think everybody can play a very important role on our team. Anybody who is playing tight end is going to be important to us at this point in time, that I can tell you. … I think that position can be very, very strong, whereas before I wasn't sure."

Williamson, of course, is the big name at the position. He played it some as a sophomore, but really carved out a name for himself last season as a defensive end. And in his brief time back with the offense, Williamson has impressed Spence, even though the coach had slight initial concerns about the move.

"I liked the fact that a player can have the ability athletically to play two ways or has done that in college and that excited me," Spence said. "I thought he'd have a certain mentality and an edge to him and I think he does. He is truly a competitor and probably a little bit more than I thought. I think he can be outstanding, to be honest with you. …

"Obviously, Bobby is much more of an athlete than I envisioned he'd be. But his attention to detail in the run game and what he's going to be required to do in that part of the game is still something he's going to have to grow into. But his skill level to catch the ball and run routes is very high."

A name Clemson fans will hear a lot of during the upcoming season is Cole Downer, who was listed last season on the depth chart as a backup offensive tackle. Downer is used to the tight end position and it shows.

Before transferring to Clemson in 2003, Downer caught six touchdown passes as a tight end at Hampden-Sydney College.

"I think Cole Downer has done an excellent job in regards of giving us some run game (support)," Spence said. "He's certainly a more than adequate receiver. He can become, I think over the next five months, an excellent receiver."

For the first time in more than a week, basketball player turned football hopeful Olu Babalola actually participated somewhat in practice. The last time he'd done so he did it as a defense end. Monday, it was as a receiver.

Babalola had balls thrown at him 55 miles per hour from a Jugs pitching machine. He also had a person throwing to him as he ran short 20-yard routes. All in all, he had some 35 ball thrown to him and he caught an estimated 25 without receiver's gloves. He caught them all with his bare hands.

"We checked him out a little bit and he did OK," said Tigers receivers coach Dabo Swinney. "With a little polishing – he has no fundamentals – and some teaching and some reps (he can do well). He's got some decent hands for a guy who has never caught a ball.

"It's the first time I've been able to see him move around and just catch a ball. With a lot of work and some reps, I think it could become a natural thing for him. Obviously he's got some big, ole meat cleavers on him. He's got soft hands. He just needs fundamentals – hand placement, extension and all those things. A ball is coming at you 50 miles per hour and you've never caught one, that's a difficult thing to do.

"We got him enough work today and enough to know that he can catch the ball if we needed him to."

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said Babalola would likely be lined up out wide, where he could run corner routes and patterns where he can use his massive 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame against smaller defensive backs, such as in a jump ball type of pass.

And not playing tight end is fine with Babalola, who is still nursing a sore left ankle.

"I'm just hoping that I can hard one time before the spring game," he said. "I'm not saying I'm going to play in the spring game, but I want to have a 100 percent practice if I can. I'm pretty frustrated right now because I'm getting new pain in new areas in my foot."

Bowden said that Cortney Vincent is pushing Gaines Adams for the starting the bandit position, while Chris Clemons is doing the same to Sergio Gilliam at cornerback. Bowden also said he likes the progress that freshman wide receiver Aaron Kelly is making. …

Quote of the day:

"I think we'll be better (as a team), but we were 10th in the conference in offense. It doesn't take much to be better. Yes, we'll be a better football team, but I don't know how much and I don't know how it will relate to wins and loses," Bowden said when asked if Clemson can be a better team than last year. …

Injury update: Dorell Scott hurt his left ankle and was carted off to the locker room. Offensive lineman Chip Myrick practiced for the first time in over a week and receiver Curtis Baham also practiced, but was very limited in action. Both Myrick and Baham sustained sprained ankles.

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