Tigers' offense works out tight spots
Tight end tandem proving to be reliable answer in passing game
10/29/2009 12:00 AM
03/14/2015 11:31 AM
CLEMSON - The moment, by redshirt freshman tight end Dwayne Allen's admission, was right out of a movie-of-the-week.
Starting senior tight end Michael Palmer had sustained his game-ending concussion early in the fourth quarter at Miami. On the sideline, position coach Danny Pearman turned intently and pointed at Allen, saying, "Dwayne, it's you."
Allen pounded his chest. "Coach, I've got you."
A month earlier, Allen had been in the coaches' doghouse for publicly expressing hope that the Tigers would include their tight ends more in the passing game.
"I'm just glad my words didn't go in vain," Allen joked this week.
Allen has gotten his wish lately, and it has helped breathe life into Clemson's offense.
The tight end tandem accounted for nine catches at Miami, the most at that position in a game since John McMakin had nine against Florida State in 1970.
That came on the heels of consecutive games in which Palmer led the Tigers in receptions to notch the most catches in a season by a Clemson tight end in 25 years.
Palmer finished with five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown against the Hurricanes, followed by Allen's season-high four catches for 36 yards.
"Once you start showing you can do things over a period of time, you get more comfort," Pearman said. "Last couple of weeks they have answered the bell for us."
The presumption has been that the Tigers have veered to more two tight end sets as a result of an ineffective receiver roulette. But offensive coordinator Billy Napier and the involved parties insist that hasn't been the case. That appears to be supported by the number of snaps the tight ends have tallied per contest.
"It's pretty much been the same plays we've been running all year," Palmer said. "We've just gotten more looks, and I think Kyle (Parker) has developed more trust in us as the year has gone along."
When the Tigers trudged into their open date after the Maryland debacle three weeks ago, the offensive staff reassessed how it was distributing snaps and opportunities for their inefficient passing game.
With the youngsters dropping passes at every turn, Clemson appears to have shelved the failed plan of developing the inexperienced receivers through on-the-job training.
Having given five receivers a crack at emerging as a dependable pass-catcher, the Tigers have come full circle, paring the rotation alongside Jacoby Ford to junior preseason starters Xavier Dye and Terrance Ashe for the Miami game.
In conjunction, the 6-foot Parker - in his first season as more than a scout-team quarterback - has shown progress the past two weeks on several fronts, from spotting open targets in the middle of the field (where tight ends are generally most productive) to advancing through a read and locating the second intended target on a pass play.
All of which have made it easier on Napier to shift the load to Palmer and Allen.
Coach Dabo Swinney compared Palmer (6-5, 260) to former Clemson receiver Tyler Grisham in terms of his grit, route-running and dual-threat catching-and-blocking capabilities, although Palmer has been more sure-handed.
While Palmer was a dependable commodity, Allen has been slow to gain coaches' trust while learning the value of precise route-running.
His athletic range was evidenced by Clemson's targeting of Allen (6-4, 255) in the compacted space near the goal line. But he flashed his every-down potential in relief of Palmer last week and was the intended receiver on four passes in the final three regulation drives.
"When you're sitting here trying to put together a plan, you're looking at who you really feel like can be productive for you," Napier said.
"We kind of narrowed down our focus in terms of who was playing and who we felt could be those guys, and structured the plan around those guys."
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