Wideout rotation a work in progress

Downfield blocking has been a point of emphasis as several players vie for time

pstrelow@thestate.comOctober 1, 2009 

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Clemson wide receiver Marquan Jones catches a ball for a first down in front of Middle Tennessee State cornerback Marcus Udell during the FOURTH QUARTER as Clemson defeats Middle Tennessee State 37-14 in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009.

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM — The State

CLEMSON - Sophomore receiver Marquan Jones shook his head and smacked his hands twice in frustration at the one that got away.

It was early in the fourth quarter of Clemson's 14-10 loss to TCU, and running back C.J. Spiller had gone around the right corner for a 34-yard gain to the Horned Frogs' 24.

But Spiller likely would have scored the go-ahead touchdown if not for being forced out of bounds by a safety who had come from the other side of the field - Jones' blocking responsibility.

The Tigers went away empty that drive, missing a short field goal.

"With backs like we have ... you can't take a play off," junior receiver Terrance Ashe said.

Receivers coach Jeff Scott pardoned Jones to a degree - his effort was there, but an audible switched the direction of the run, and a slight move by TCU's safety made Jones pause long enough that he was unable to cut him off as designed.

It's been a rough opening four games for Clemson receivers not named Jacoby Ford. Offseason concerns about depth and consistency have bore to fruition, as evidenced by the fact a running back (Spiller) and tight end (Michael Palmer) are second and third on the team in catches, respectively.

Two of the three preseason first-stringers - Ashe and junior Xavier Dye - have lost their starting jobs, with Dye briefly quitting the team before returning. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Clear started the second game but was reduced to special teams snaps against TCU.

Redshirt freshman Jaron Brown flashed promise against TCU, but he was part of what Scott called a collectively disappointing blocking performance against the Horned Frogs as several potentially long runs were smothered by missed blocks on the perimeter.

"Especially for young guys out there, it's a different world," Scott said. "The DBs are looking at the football, so they get to know which way it's going, and you're running, watching them, having to react. That's something you have to develop a knack for."

With offensive coordinator Billy Napier intending to increase the role of Clemson's tight ends and backup running back Andre Ellington in the passing game, the receivers' biggest impact might be what they do to help block for Spiller.

There seems little coincidence that Ashe, a former walk-on, has garnered the steadiest number of snaps. He is considered the unit's most physical and dependable run-blocker.

"Watching it on film, we see guys getting after it," Dye said. "But when they get there, it's breaking down with the fundamentals of engaging on a guy and stuff like that. We can do it. C.J.'s broke out a ton of times in practice. We just have to go out and do it."

It could be argued the receivers' inconsistency have been because of the constant upheaval, which may explains why Scott said he hopes to solidify the rotation in the next two weeks.

Brown appears to have staying power at the "X" position, while Jones remains the team's second-most dangerous threat at receiver besides Jacoby Ford, with all four his catches going for 20-plus yards.

Scott intimated the rest of the receiving crew have not many catches because the coaching staff has funneled the offense through mainly Spiller and Ford.

Yet he said coaches have seen some of the candidates develop into playmakers at practice the past two weeks, and once they make the routine plays in games - in terms of both catching and blocking - then they will get more passes.

"Most people know this is a game about production," Ashe said. "And when you have the chance to make a play, you've got to make it. That's one area we're lacking in right now, especially at the wide receiver unit. And it's something that will probably take time to develop."

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