The departures of WR Jacoby Ford (Oakland), RB CJ Spiller (Buffalo), and TE Michael Palmer (Atlanta) to the NFL, the Tigers were left without their top three receivers returning for this season. This, of course, led to the question, “Who will step up and help this team move the ball through the air?”
Four games in, the question still remains. Thus far, only TE Dwayne Allen has reached the double-digit mark with 11 receptions and is the only receiver with more than 100 yards receiving (180). Running backs Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington are second and third on the team in those two categories, respectively. Harper has nine receptions for 85 yards and three TDs and Ellington has reeled in eight balls for 90 yards and no scores.
With upperclassmen Terrance Ashe, Brandon Clear, and Xavier Dye combining for just five catches and one touchdown between the three of them, WR coach Jeff Scott is looking to inject some new blood into the wide receiving corps. Enter DeAndre Hopkins and Bryce McNeal, both freshmen.
Bryce McNeal is a red-shirt freshman out of Minneapolis while DeAndre McDaniel is a true freshman from Daniel High. Ideally, the Tigers would love to rely on the experience of Seniors Terrance Ashe and Xavier Dye as well as Junior Brandon Clear, but with the season already a third of the way over, the coaching staff will look to their youth to play a more prominent role.
WR coach Jeff Scott says the two freshmen have a lot to offer. “What we’ve seen from them, even from the beginning of the season, is the athleticism [sic] is there….and the ball skills,” said Scott.
“Being able to really run and stretch the field, I think the biggest thing for those two guys in their first year of actually playing is getting experience and we’ve been fortunate to be able to get them in a lot of the games and play some relevant snaps.”
Scott says that Hopkins is a physical player and is learning quickly how to use that to his advantage and to the team’s advantage in a game. “(He) loves the game and loves contact,” he said. “I was excited about that knowing he had a defensive personality coming over to play the wide receiver position.
“The biggest thing he has had to learn is, ‘when can I go cut a guy?’ or ‘when can I go crack back on a guy?’ Now I think he is becoming more confident in that and it really showed (last) Saturday. He did a great job down field and was very physical and had a lot of guys on the ground.”
Hopkins and McNeal came to Clemson with a lot of expectations surrounding them and the coaching staff has shown a lot of confidence in the two. Their only concern was how long it would take to get the duo up to speed on how to play at this level. Scott says they are each getting very close. “I think their knowledge is getting up there where they can go be an every down starter,” he said.
“Their ball skills and all that type of stuff was already there but the biggest thing was getting their experience and knowledge up to the same level.”
McNeal says the opportunity is all he wants saying, “I think every player on this team waits for their opportunity.
“The biggest thing is making sure you’re ready to grasp it and, really, take hold of your opportunity and make the best of it.”
His opportunity, along with Hopkins, is coming this Saturday in Chapel Hill.