The man with the (offensive) plan

If Billy Napier were to ever sit down at a poker table with a large stack of chips in front of him, not of the "all-in" variety mind you, he very well could be in some serious trouble.

Because even though he plays it close to the vest when answering questions about Clemson's offense this coming season, his facial expressions tell you all you need to know.

"You'll see," he said with a grin. "Our guys are ready. They have a good week and a half worth of work ahead of them and then it's all about focus. It's about focus for 29 practices before we get ready for Middle Tennessee."

Napier, of course, has reasons to feel both confident and excited about the 2009 season.

After all he has the benefit of calling plays with arguably the most explosive player in all of college football in C.J. Spiller, not to mention two talented running backs behind him in Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington.

Spiller is the closest thing college football has to the Playstation's x-button, as one move in the open field can put six points on the board faster than you can say instant offense. Meanwhile Harper and Ellington were two of the top rated running backs in the country two years ago coming out of high school.

At the same time, there are also plenty of questions as well.

In fact, most preseason pundits view Clemson's defense as the strength of the team, where as the offense is riddled with inexperience at quarterback and wide receiver.

But much like his head coach Dabo Swinney, Napier doesn't seem to be concerned with the upcoming quarterback battle between young guns Willy Korn and Kyle Parker, and maybe even Tajh Boyd.

Simply put, he wants to see what happens up front.

"The only thing I can tell you is the best teams I've been around have been teams that have had a good front on offense and were capable of dictating the tone of the game to the defense," he said.

"My best days at Furman were when we imposed our will. I think our front guys this year ... well let's just say I'm excited about their offseason."

With nine of last year's 10-man rotation on the offensive line back this season, there is certainly a feeling in Clemson's camp the unit will improve. Remember last year was the second consecutive season the Tigers had to replace at least three starters from the previous year's squad- and it showed.

In the loss to Alabama to open the season the Tigers rushed for exactly zero yards on 14 carries. Against Wake Forest in a 12-7 setback five weeks later, Clemson rushed 23 times for just 53 yards. And finally against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, the Tigers had just four rushing yards on 26 attempts.

It's odd to realize despite the inability to open holes consistently for Spiller and James Davis or to protect quarterback Cullen Harper the Tigers still had a chance to win two of those three games, but it's true.

Imagine what could happen if this year's team can even get slightly better production up front, especially playing with what is expected to be one of the better defensive units in the ACC.

"We should be better," Napier said. "This spring was about our front guys and we feel like we made a lot of strides there. This summer was about our receivers. We've done a lot of things with those guys from a nutrition standpoint. We changed our summer work outs to a degree with smaller groups and less time between drills.


"I'm really anxious to see our young receivers when we get back. They can go out and throw and catch in the summer and that can really lead to a lot of improvement in a summer," Napier said. "There are things in place for those guys to take advantage of that time."
"Our players are buying into and the see the value in what we are doing."

Obviously the summer is an important part of the year for quarterbacks and receivers, especially when there are so many new players expected to make significant contributions this year. It allows strong bonds to form and just as important, rhythm and patterns to develop.

Simply put, a quarterback should know his top receivers like the back of his hand, and that's exactly what Clemson signal callers Willy Korn and Kyle Parker have been trying to establish the last two months on the practice fields. So while Kyle Parker or Willy Korn throwing touchdown passes to Jaron Brown or Brandon Ford may sound new to the fans this fall, it won't feel new for the players themselves.

"I'm really anxious to see our young receivers when we get back. They can go out and throw and catch in the summer and that can really lead to a lot of improvement in a summer," Napier said. "There are things in place for those guys to take advantage of that time."

And it doesn't stop there.

Always a stickler for details, Napier met with every offensive player on the team individually after spring practice to go over offseason plans and strategies for the coming the season. From nutrition to the last play in the playbook, every single possible detail was discussed time and time again.

"That was important. After spring practice we did evaluations on everybody," he said. "We met with everybody - just looking at things and trying to motivate each guy ... working to get each guy better ... to get the absolute most out of what we've got.

"I'm anxious to see how it all works out."

Clemson fans are too, of course, especially when they think about what the Tigers' new offense could look like this year.

It's probably a safe bet to expect a couple of option plays now incorporated into Clemson's playbook. Don't be surprised to see some I-formation or perhaps a dose of zone-read as well. Surely there won't be nearly as many screen passes thrown as what was seen under the former offensive staff.

And it also seems like the quarterback will do more running than at any point since the days of Woodrow Dantzler.

But even when asked about all of those possibilities written above, Napier isn't showing his hand just yet.

"You'll see," Napier said with a grin. "I'm a believer in rushing the football. That's where the game starts. We'll have some new stuff in there to along with what we did in the spring and at the end of last year. You'll see."

Maybe he'd be a good poker player after all.

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