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I’m not going to sugar-coat this, the TE position was a weak link in the Clemson offense last year. In the previous two season, Clemson made great use of Jordan Leggett’s route running and ball skills. Leggett kept the strong TE tradition under Dabo alive and well by making 1st team All ACC and being a finalist for The Mackey Award which is given to the best TE in the nation. As good as he was as a receiver, he struggled as much as a blocker. To his credit, he did improve his blocking from absolutely atrocious to slightly below average. Leggett was excellent when he was asked to split out wide and block smaller DBs. The staff made great use of his stalk blocking in our bubble screen game.
Back in 2015, I anticipated that while we would eventually lose a great pass-catching TE in Leggett, his replacement would certainly improve the blocking immensely. That did not happen. Last year, Milan Richard was a downgrade in that regard, especially at the beginning of the season. Once the staff made a conscious effort to get him the ball against Syracuse, his blocking improved up to the level of where Leggett was in 2016. When they stopped giving him the ball later in the season, his blocking regressed once again. Perhaps the worst part about Richard’s blocking was his work on the perimeter. Where Leggett would win consistently win those battles against DBs, Richard would either whiff or lose them.
Veteran D.J. Greenlee was a better blocker and had soft hands, but certainly wasn’t on the same level athletically as Richard. Watching that every week on film was disappointing, but I understand that the threat of having the athletic Richard on the field has its advantages. What I really wanted to happen from the start of the season was for Cain to move to 2WR, Overton play 9WR, and Shadell Bell (early in the season and Tee Higgins later in the season) to play alongside Overton in the slot on the boundary (ie. don’t play a TE). To me, that was our best lineup and got our most talented players on the field.
This year, Richard returns as the starter but, there are some challenges to the throne. Garrett Williams is healthy and looked improved from when we saw him last in 2016. The 270 pound Cannon Smith is returning for his senior season. J.C. Chalk is now entering his 3rd year in the program which is often where “the light coming on” meets opportunity. The most talented of all the TEs though, might be true freshman Braden Galloway. He is a future starter at the position from a talent standpoint and he has his mindset right. I wouldn’t be surprised if came out of nowhere in the 2nd half of the season to upgrade the receiving ability of the TE position.
Reminder my usage of position terms:
- H is the alignment usually behind, and sometimes outside, the OT (also called a “Sniffer Back”). From there, he can be the lead blocker, pass protector on the DE, or route runner. The H can be aligned in the slot as a WR as well. H Lineage: Dwayne Allen, Brandon Ford, Jordan Leggett
- TE is the traditional in-line alignment on the line of scrimmage outside of the OT (also called an “Inline TE”). TE lineage: Dwayne Allen, Sam Cooper, Jordan Leggett
- FB is the alignment between the two OG and deeper than the QB. This alignment requires an effective downhill lead blocker in order to accelerate into and win collisions with LBs. FB lineage: Chad Diehl, Darrell Smith, Garrett Williams
Fall Camp Depth Chart
Milan Richard or Garrett Williams, Cannon Smith, J.C. Chalk, Braden Galloway
Clearly the staff is enamored with Milan Richard in a way that I am not, which makes it hard to project what will happen in fall camp. I go off of what I see on film, and I’m not a huge fan of what I’ve seen from Richard. He is very inconsistent and getting blown up on the perimeter is unacceptable when we depend on stretching teams horizontally. I hope that Richard, a 5th year senior in his final audition for the NFL, is a new man in the fall. He has shown that he will perform at a much higher level when he is involved in the offense as a receiver. The staff stated in the spring that they wanted to use the TE more, so maybe, just maybe, that’s all it takes.
Richard is going to get a nice challenge from the improved Garrett Williams. GWill looked back and better than ever in the spring, and as his skill set has grown, so should his snaps. I expect him to get a look with the 1s this fall.
Season Depth Chart
Milan Richard or Garrett Williams, Cannon Smith, J.C. Chalk, Braden Galloway (redshirt)
My gut feeling is that the staff has already decided to redshirt Braden Galloway. He is small at 220 and missed a month with a foot injury this spring. With two redshirt senior TEs returning, there really isn’t a need to blow Galloway’s first year of eligibility unless he can do extraordinary things that our offense needs.
We know that our offense will be in short yardage situations and that we were successful in 2015 using a short yardage package that included a TE and a FB. Having GWill and Cannon on the field at the same time will be something we didn’t have last year. This should allow us to expand the playbook in those situations.
I have a platoon of Richard and Williams with roughly equal snaps between the two. If Galloway doesn’t redshirt, I think that will be a good indicator that the future starts now with him. If that happens, I would expect him to be locked into the 3rd team spot and get an opportunity midway through the season.
The Kraken Depth Chart
Garrett Williams, Braden Galloway, Milan Richard, Cannon Smith, J.C. Chalk
As you know, I’m not confident in M80’s consistency. I think Williams will be a more consistent blocker than Richard in all situations. With the lack of consistent blocking on the perimeter that Richard has brought to the table, I see 4-wide sets being more advantageous from a matchup standpoint.
Therefore, I would do something Dabo and staff will almost certainly not do and that is give Galloway a shot to unseat Richard. That is, if Richard has not improved his consistency. M80 is capable when he gives max effort. With a lucrative career in football on the line, we could see the best version of M80 all season. I would tentatively redshirt Galloway but have him practice with the travel squad. In the 2nd week of October, I would make the call to either play him or redshirt him and send him down to scout team/power hour.
Spring Preview 2018
One of the reasons I thought we would switch to a more run-based attack last year, was because of the loss of Jordan Leggett at tight end. Leggett was a dynamic pass-catching TE with excellent hands that made a lot of big plays when opponents forgot about him. He was also a very effective redzone threat as well. His blocking was much maligned over his career, but he did improve from horrendous to below average.
We were going to lose Leggett’s passing game prowess, but I hoped that we were going to upgrade in run blocking at the tight end position. That didn’t happen. For the first part of the season last year, Milan Richard was even worse. Even in 2×2 sets where Richard is asked to block a much smaller CB on screens, he got blown up repeatedly. Asking him to block a DE? Only if he’s 5’3″ (yes, blatant Sir Mix Alot reference from ’92). I wondered that since Richard couldn’t block and we weren’t throwing to him, why is he on the field when we can play a 4th WR? Or Shadell Bell? Or any tight end that gives 100%?
Ironically, in the Syracuse loss, things changed for the better. We started using Richard as a receiver over the middle like we used to use Leggett. All of the sudden, Richard starting blocking better. Sometimes, he would actually do a good job. Then, we ignored him in the passing game late in the year and the bad habits returned. He bottomed out in a really bad performance against Alabama. We’ve got to do better at TE in 2018.
The Tigers lost 2nd string tight end, D.J. Greenlee, to graduation and lost backup TE and converted WR, Shadell Bell, to transfer. The Tigers brought in Braden Galloway as an early enrollee.
Reminder of position terms:
- H is the alignment behind, and sometimes outside, the OL where what we call TE typically lines up. From there, he can be the lead blocker, pass protector on the DE, or route runner. He can move out into the slot as a WR as well. H Lineage: Dwayne Allen, Brandon Ford, Jordan Leggett
- TE is the traditional in-line alignment on the outside of the OT. TE lineage: Dwayne Allen, Sam Cooper, Jordan Leggett
- FB is the inside alignment between the two OGs and behind the LOS. This alignment requires an effective downhill lead blocker. FB lineage: Chad Diehl, Darrell Smith, Garrett Williams
Milan Richard, H/TE
Doing better at TE may have to start and end with Milan Richard. Entering his senior year, and 5th year in the program, he should perform like the grown man and great athlete that he is. We’ve seen him do it. It just seems like he’s not interested in blocking as much unless he is also getting the ball in the passing game.
Richard should enter the spring as the starter at H/TE and exit the spring as the starter at H/TE. The best thing that could happen for him in the spring, in my opinion, is to have some legitimate competition to push and threaten his snaps. In fact, if I was Dabo and Pearman, I would manufacture it even if it wasn’t there. I’d let another TE start taking reps with the 1s.
Cannon Smith, TE
Cannon is another 5th year senior that mostly plays in short yardage situations for us. He got some reps in the regular offense, but as the #3 TE, they were rare. Smith has shown to be a solid blocker as an in-line TE, but as a receiver, he is a short route/swap boot kind of guy. He doesn’t have good hands either.
I don’t think Smith is what we are looking for at the TE position, but he’s our biggest and strongest TE and can provide depth. I think a great spring performance by Chalk, Williams, or Galloway could wrestle the #2 TE spot away from him in the coaches’ minds. Cannon will certainly have a role here in short yardage and I’m hoping that we get to see Cannon at TE and Williams at FB in the I-formation like we saw in the Alabama game in 2015.
Garrett Williams, FB
Williams fits the FB profile of being a devastating downhill blocker. His gore of Rueben Foster propelled Wayne Gallman into the endzone in the 2015 National Championship game and sent a physical message to the Alabama defense. In 2016, Williams wasn’t used as much due to the immense talent at WR on the outside. Last year was probably going to be his year though as we switched to a more physical style of offense. Unfortunately, last April Williams tore his ACL and missed the 2017 season.
Williams is back healthy and ready for spring practice. I’m sure it will take him a little bit to get confidence in his knee back, but in my mind, the goal is to have him ready as a FB by September. Anything else we get out of him is gravy on top.
J.C. Chalk, H/TE
Mr. Chalk, your time is now. This is going to be a big spring for Chalk. Chalk is entering his 3rd year in the program which means he should know the offense and his body should be transformed. From limited performances in games, there is a lot to like. He is a willing blocker with good hands and even a little wiggle after the catch. His top end speed is average though and he still seemed to lack some physicality at the point of attack.
I expect Chalk to be a priority this spring and to get a shot to be the “real” backup at tight end. I don’t think he’ll be listed as the backup post-spring though. Fall camp is going to be where the real movement on the depth chart may take place. Moving Chalk ahead of Cannon Smith or Garrett Williams would surprise me because it is likely to induce a transfer this summer.
Braden Galloway, H/TE
I think Braden Galloway is a future starter and team leader for us. Galloway fits the Jordan Leggett mold, and of all the TEs, has the most upside as a receiver. How quickly the staff moves him along will say a lot about how the staff values a high-level pass catching tight end in the offensive scheme.
Having heard him speak, I was very impressed. Galloway is grounded and understands that things are not going to be handed to him. As the spring begins, he’s going to be taking mostly mental reps since he had a screw put in his foot related to an injury last year. After spring break, Dabo is hopeful that he will be able to take some reps.
Galloway has a 6’5″ frame, but is only 220 pounds as of his senior year in high school. Obviously, he is going to have to gain some weight in order to contribute. This spring is likely going to be about learning for him. This summer is likely going to be about adding weight, and this fall, he should get a limited opportunity to show what he can do. With 5 TEs on the roster currently, he is likely to redshirt.
2017 Fall Preview
Tight End Fall Camp Depth Chart
Milan Richard or D.J. Greenlee, Cannon Smith, Shadell Bell, J.C. Chalk
At TE, the status quo remains to start fall camp as none of the TEs separated themselves over the spring. Entering the fall, there are 5 contenders for the 2 deep and also a short yardage/fullback spot. The SY/FB spot, vacated by Garrett Williams ACL tear, is likely Cannon Smith’s to lose. 4 of the 5 listed here are close in ability. Chalk starts off behind the other four, but he could also make the most strides this fall because of his youth. All 5 have advantages and disadvantages over their competition. I see the potential winner here as the guy who fixes their disadvantage first.
The more the offense can ask from the TE/H, the more versatile the offense can be. For the past couple years, we have had an excellent receiver at TE in Jordan Leggett. This means that the defense had to account for him as a major passing threat or risk getting burned with big gainers. This should have created an advantage in the run game, but unfortunately, Leggett’s blocking was a negative. This was often due to effort level and it led to smaller holes for the RBs and some missed assignments.
Last year, despite losing playing time, D.J. Greenlee raised the level of his game and ascended to becoming the 2nd best TE on the roster. Because Greenlee does not have the same upside as the rest of the TEs, the staff made the decision to invest 2nd team reps into Milan Richard. Richard has the best combination of size and athleticism, but did not seize the job well enough to spell Leggett, and his meaningful snaps declined as the year progressed. When Leggett got dinged up briefly later in the year, Richard would come in, and at times, would not know his assignment.
So, the mission in fall camp is to find a reliable starter and backup and the job is open.
TE Season Depth Chart
D.J. Greenlee, Milan Richard, Cannon Smith (SY), Shadell Bell, J.C. Chalk
Yea, I’m betting against Milan Richard a little bit here. They’ll probably give him through September to step up and if he does, that will be awesome. Then again, Dabo likes his 5-Hearts and could use Greenlee as an example to the younger players on the team.
The two wild cards, Bell and Chalk, have the ability to end this entire narrative and be the saviors. However, I’m betting against that too based on size, strength, and opportunity level.
So don’t freak out if Greenlee is the starter. Greenlee has shown that he knows his job, has soft hands, and probably has better acceleration than most people think. He is just more of a safety valve and not a downfield threat like Leggett.
The Kraken Depth Chart
Shadell Bell or Cannon Smith, D.J. Greenlee, Milan Richard, J.C. Chalk
I’m not a huge fan of 4th year players being considered developmental projects. Dabo, however, has shown that he is a fan. Brandon Ford, Eric Mac Lain, and Marcus Edmond are great examples of late bloomers panning out. So, I guess Milan Richard is this year’s late bloomer candidate. If it were me, I’d give someone else his opportunities. Other guys are out there working hard too. I’d give Bell and Smith the chance to develop and have Greenlee waiting in the wings.
So, like the RB position, I would use a 3 headed monster at TE and have fresh legs out there. The player that I thought gave Clemson the best advantage in the particular game would get the bigger part of the gameplan. Shadell Bell is the bigger receiving threat. Greenlee is the best all-around TE. Cannon Smith is the bigger blocking threat.
Spring Preview 2017
For all but a couple years of the Dabo era, we have been blessed with an All ACC player at TE. Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen, Brandon Ford, and Jordan Leggett developed into professional level talents at the position. Prior to Leggett’s emergence, there were a couple thin years at TE when Stanton Seckinger, Sam Cooper, Jay Jay McCullough, and Leggett were competing to see who would emerge.
In 2015 and 2016, it was Jordan Leggett that emerged as the All ACC TE and Mackey Award finalist. Leggett improved as a blocker throughout his career, but it was his receiving ability that made him a matchup nightmare for defenses. Teams that would load up to stop the run would pay at the hands of the reliable Leggett. Often, Leggett was the ace in the hole that the staff was waiting to unleash when they needed a big play to scramble the defense and put them on their heels.
Heading into 2017, there are more questions than answers about the TE situation. When Clemson is about to run out at a particular position, they have always oversigned at the position and TE is no exception. There are currently 6 TEs that will battle for playing time this spring.
Milan Richard is probably the guy the staff would like to win the job. Richard has the best combination of size and athleticism of the 6 TEs and, therefore, has the highest ceiling right now. Last spring, Richard showed that he can run routes and catch the ball. During the season, he wasn’t asked to do to be a pass catcher. Instead, he was used as a blocker in 2 TE sets. There, he struggled with assignment responsibilities and sustaining blocks.
It will be interesting to see the level of opportunity Richard is given this spring. Was last spring his big chance to lock down a spot in the two deep? Or was that just grooming him for a bigger opportunity this spring.
Seen as the better blocker is true Junior, Garrett Williams. Williams is an excellent downhill blocker as a FB, but was less effective as an in-line TE. When you couple that with his lack of receiving prowess (2 rec, 19 yards, in his career), Williams will have to improve in several areas of his game in order to be the most effective option at H or TE in our system. He has an important role as the FB in short yardage situations and I don’t see anybody with the skill set to push him there.
A wild card in the picture at TE is D.J. Greenlee. Greenlee showed a lot of improvement between the 2015 season and 2016 spring. I thought he had kind of a Brandon Ford-like awakening last year. Unfortunately, his opportunities to play went down when the staff elected to give his opportunities to younger players like Richard, Williams, and Smith. That doesn’t change the fact that, as of last spring, Greenlee had more versatility and ability than all 3 of them. It is possible that the staff could feel that they gave the younger guys their opportunity last year, and now it’s time to put the best TE out there. Therefore, if you hear something about Greenlee making a push up the depth chart, it doesn’t mean that all of our TEs have regressed. It means that Greenlee is the simply the better option.
As I wrote about last year, this happens due to predetermined opportunity. The staff will almost always sell it as “the light coming on” or “increased work ethic,” but often, it’s as simple as the lower ranked recruit being better than the higher ranked recruit.
The big man at TE is Cannon Smith. He has an NFL body, but is still developing the NFL skill set. Smith can be effective in the pass game on drags and bootlegs, but he is not yet a threat downfield like a Jordan Leggett or Dwayne Allen. Perhaps most disappointing about him though, is that he plays smaller than he looks and is only an average inline blocking TE. Without much improvement, Smith should again find a home in the short yardage package and on special teams. However, to have a bigger role in the offense, he is going to have to improve.
Maybe the most intriguing option at TE is Shadell Bell. I would think Bell has to be considered the best receiving threat at TE heading into the spring. In fact, Bell is the only TE that could play on the outside and be a legitimate matchup problem for a LB. The problem with Bell is that he still has to put on 20 or 30 pounds to be a blocking threat. Right now, defenses would just treat Bell like a WR without suffering repercussions for doing so.
The newcomer is redshirt freshman, J.C. Chalk, who will be getting his first opportunity to crack the TE rotation. Chalk has great hands and a willingness to block. He has good lateral movement but limited top end speed. He has added 20 pounds since he got to Clemson, but he could probably add 20 more. The fact that none of the other TEs separated themselves from the pack last year bodes well for him. He needs that to continue and to show upside by being a reliable receiving threat.
We lost Stanton Seckinger but we return Jordan Leggett. Last year, Leggett became the next star in a great run of pass catching TEs. Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen, and Brandon Ford were first team All ACC TEs here and last year, Jordan Leggett became the 4th in 6 years to receive the honor. Leggett was also a finalist for the Mackey Award that goes to the best TE in college football.
I’ll quibble with the Mackey Award nomination because Leggett is not a complete TE. Then again, they have 8 finalists so, I could justify him being in the top 8 nationally as a receiver. Leggett’s issue is that he is a below average blocker, especially for his size, at 6’5″ and 255 pounds. He isn’t a physical player and is really a bulked up WR. He is, however, smooth as glass in and out of his routes and has great hands. He doesn’t like the contact, so he will usually slide down after the catch, but he will go over the middle and make a play. He is also excellent in the red zone and I look forward to having both Leggett and a pogo-stick like Mike Williams outside to compliment him this year.
Garrett Williams had one of the blocks of the year last year when he drove Reggie Ragland of Alabama into the endzone to allow Gallman to score. Williams made that block out of the Fullback position and that’s where I think he’s best suited.
Williams’ skill set is that of a downhill blocker with forward momentum. He has not yet impressed me as a consistent H-Back or on-the-line blocker. He is also yet to catch a pass in a Clemson uniform and they didn’t run a play for him in the spring game.
None of the other TEs have the skill level of Leggett in the passing game either but, Milan Richard has the size and athleticism to evolve into a pass catching threat. This is the major reason I like Richard as the #2 TE. I also think he has the toughness and blocking ability to be better than Leggett. When J.C. Chalk gets to Clemson for fall camp, we will have 6 TEs on scholarship, and the best natural athlete of the 6 is Richard.
This might come as a surprise but, I like D.J. Greenlee as the #3 TE in our base offense. He looked much improved in the spring game and it looked like the light has come on for him. He will certainly be on the field for special teams and he would be my “next man up” if Leggett or Richard missed time.
Cannon Smith would be my pick for a role on Goalline/Short Yardage TE. Smith is a really big dude at 6’4″/ 265. He is the guy you want combo blocking down on the goalline. We also saw him release and catch a TD in the spring game.
Kraken Depth Chart
TE1: Jordan Leggett
TE2: Milan Richard
FB: Garrett Williams
TE3: D.J. Greenlee
SY/GL: Cannon Smith
Incoming: J.C. Chalk
The current state of the TE position is that we an excellent pass catching TE and 5 guys that are still developing. The fact that Leggett is not a proficient blocker drops the grade down to a B+.
Early Look at 2017: Uh oh. TE, along with QB, are expected to the offensive positions of major regression heading into 2017. We do get 5 separate opportunities to develop another great TE, but it would be nice if we could develop one of them during the season this year. There is no guarantee of that happening though and you have to project that we will not have a TE with the pass catching ability of Leggett. On the flip-side, we will most likely improve in blocking out of the TEs.