Dabo Swinney’s message to Ray-Ray McCloud this offseason was he could be a difference-maker as a punt returner if he put his mind to it.
The Clemson receiver is proving his coach to be correct.
Through three games, McCloud has 152 punt return yards on six returns, an average of more than 25 yards per return. The entire 2015 season, Clemson as a team finished with 63 yards on 27 punt returns.
“It’s only been two or three games, but Coach Swinney really went on me to take it more serious, that this is a big part of the game that can win games and lose games,” McCloud said. “All summer, he was on me about taking it more serious and taking every rep as if it’s the last play of the game and there are 90,000 people in the stands in the national championship… That’s how I’ve been kind of doing.”
McCloud did have a blunder as he dropped the ball a yard short of the goal line on a would-be punt return for a touchdown against Troy, but he said he’s learned his lesson and is thankful the coaching staff still trusts him as a returner.
When Troy punted later in the game, McCloud was back out to receive it.
“That just shows the trust (Swinney) has in me and what type of coach he is,” McCloud said. “It’s just about having a short-term memory. That’s what all great players have. That’s really what I’ve been trying to work on.”
CARRYING THE LOAD
Clemson star running back Wayne Gallman had only seven carries last weekend against S.C. State, and is at 46 carries through three games as the Tigers have given other running backs opportunities leading into ACC play.
Clemson had five running backs with at least four carries against S.C. State, but Gallman is ready to get back to shouldering the load against Georgia Tech on Thursday.
“We’ve been trying to get everybody some playing time and everybody some opportunities, but I’m ready to just let it loose,” he said.
Freshman running back Tavien Feaster could be the backup to Gallman this week after not being listed on the Tigers’ depth chart to open the season.
Feaster led Clemson with 12 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs.
“Tavien’s just been out there working hard, really been holding himself accountable and maybe looking at stuff at home, just doing the extra little things at practice to make the coaches know that he’s learning and getting to know the system. He’s been doing a really good job,” Gallman said.
While Feaster is making progress, co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott believes he still has plenty of room to grow.
“When you see him with the ball, we know that he’s special. As a coach, it’s my job to critique, and so I’m focusing on the little things,” Elliott said. “There are a lot of little things without the ball. With the ball, he’s great. We’ve still got to focus on ball security, but you saw natural ability take over once the lights came on.”