Post spring insider: WRs (part 1)

CLEMSON — Contrary to popular belief, the group that made the most improvement in the spring was Clemson's wide receivers.

Position coach Jeff Scott said with such a young group he knew his players weren't where they were supposed to be heading in, but from day one of spring practice to the Orange and White game his wideouts progressed all the way through.

Players like Xavier Dye, Brandon Ford, Marquan Jones and Terrance Ash did a lot of good things, and for the most part, each started to make plays the last couple of weeks. The coaches felt like they were doing all the little things that they were being coached to do as well.

Midway through the spring, head coach Dabo Swinney challenged his former position players, most of which he recruited to Clemson, to step it up and become consistent. From that point, the receivers did just that as they stopped dropping balls, started running cleaner routes and started blocking better downfield.

In this report of the wide receivers we look at what Clemson calls the X-position in its offense. Three players, Xavier Dye, Brandon Clear and Brandon Ford are battling for playing time.

Xavier Dye (6-foot-5, 210, junior, Greenwood, S.C.)

Xavier Dye is the heir apparent to the ACC's all-time leading receiver in Aaron Kelly, but he must step up his play when the Tigers kick off their 2009 season Sept. 5 against Middle Tennessee. (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)

About: Will be the starter and the guy who gets the next-to-impossible task of replacing Aaron Kelly. As Kelly's backup the last two years, he has 10 career catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Had a career high three catches for 37 yards against S.C. State last year when had a season-high 30 snaps.

The positives: Swinney says he is ahead of Aaron Kelly as far as his overall growth at this point in his career. He has very good hands and is bigger and stronger than Kelly. He has the potential to go up and get jump balls or fade passes in the end zone. Also seems to be faster for his size than he looks and can be a deep threat receiver. Runs solid routes and is a good run blocker.

The negatives: He seems to hide when the spotlight is on him. In three scrimmages this fall, he made at least one catch in each one, but none of them were really memorable catches. Coaches raved about him in practice, but in the scrimmages he disappeared somewhat.

Brandon Clear (6-foot-5, 205, redshirt sophomore, Hoover, Ala.)

Like Xavier Dye, Brandon Clear gives Clemson's quarterbacks another tall target. (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)

About: Played in three games last season to earn a letter. With the graduation of Kelly and Tyler Grisham he figures to see more playing time in the fall. He has a 39-inch vertical jump which is second on the team and a team-best 10.7 inch broad jump.

The positives: Like Dye, Clear gives Clemson's quarterbacks another tall target. He has good hands and runs routes well. In the spring he made big strides with getting stronger. He has done a lot of work to get into the position where he can now compete for serious playing time. Very smart player and to prove it he has made the academic honor roll every semester since he has been at Clemson.

The negatives: Still needs to get stronger and could work on his run blocking. Also needs to be more consistent catching the ball, especially when going over the middle. He dropped a couple of those kinds of passes in each of the scrimmages. Appears to have a tendency to listen for footsteps.

Brandon Ford (6-foot-4, 210, redshirt freshman, Wando, S.C.)

Ford caught four passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the second scrimmage of the spring, including a 60-yard pass from Michael Wade. (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)

About: Redshirted last season after coming to school in July. He was an All-State selection at Hanahan High School and was the No. 64 wide receiver in the nation according to Scout.com. The Shrine Bowler had 76 receptions for 1,702 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior. He led the state in receiving yards and touchdowns and ranked third nationally.

The positives: Ford really took advantage of his opportunities this spring. He was working with the third group at the start of the spring, but towards the end he moved up a little bit and was working a little bit in the second group. He has really good ball skills when catching the football and he is still learning. Coaches are proud of his stronger work ethic, which Scott says is the best of all the receivers. Caught four passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the second scrimmage of the spring, including a 60-yard pass from Michael Wade.

The negatives: This was his first spring so he is still learning the offense. A little raw in his route running and needs to improve with run blocking down field. In his freshman season he was only on the scout team so the spring was the first time he was coached at this level. Has a lot of improving to do, but if he continues to work hard in the summer and fall camp, he is a guy that can earn some playing time in the fall.

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