NCF Nation: Brad Scott

This past summer, Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen kept watching, waiting for true freshman Sammy Watkins to act his age.

Go to the wrong locker. Wear the wrong uniform. Get lost on campus. Get leveled at practice. Anything.

It never happened.

"Sammy steps on campus at 6-2, 205-210 -- he’s put together, now -- and I’m just like, 'Let's see what he does in our first summer workouts,'" Allen said. "We go out for summer workouts and he burns by people. I’m like, 'OK, that’s going to stop in fall camp when we put the pads on.' We put the pads on, and we were going through blocking drills, Sammy was running full speed, low, running through guys, blocking his tail off, and I’m like, 'Does he catch every pass, too?' I just keep looking for holes, and I tell you, there are none."

[+] EnlargeClemson's Sammy Watkins
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMI Sammy Watkins accounts for 89 of his school-record 345 all-purpose yards with this kickoff return for a touchdown against Maryland.
At only 18 years old, Watkins has made it easy to forget he is only a true freshman. After all, Watkins already owns 11 school freshman records and he’s on pace to set more with five games remaining. Watkins has captured the attention of college football fans across the country with his speed, his exciting versatility, and his uncanny ability to single-handedly change a game. Equally if not more impressive, though, has been his maturity off the field. He’s a regular in the academic center, has developed a reputation for his business-like attitude on and off the field, and he has managed to remain humble despite the abundance of individual and team success this year.

“(Receivers) coach (Jeff Scott) tells me, ‘Don’t be a typical freshman,’ so I can’t do what all the other freshmen do,” he said. “Like being late, dressing up in the wrong stuff, or getting into trouble and not making the tutoring and stuff like that.

“I just know from my point of view, I just have to keep working and getting better and better,” he said. “I can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m a freshman, I got this or that.’ That doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I have to keep performing every game.”

Watkins' combination of talent and attitude should concern the rest of the ACC. And it does.

“I don’t know if anybody’s got somebody that can cover Sammy Watkins," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. "What I watched Saturday night, I’d have to call him right now the best player in college football. He’s a brand new ‘Cat, but good gosh! He looked like that on tape too. The only thing I know to cover him is to have him arrested before the ballgame.”

And it's just the beginning. Much like No. 7 Clemson as a team, Watkins has yet to reach his peak.

“He’s smart enough to know that he has not arrived, and he has one of the best work ethics on our football team,” said former offensive line coach Brad Scott, who recruited Watkins with his son, receivers coach Jeff Scott. “… He keeps it all in perspective. That’s what I think is pretty unique about him.”

That and his instant success.

Watkins enters Saturday’s game against North Carolina ranked No. 10 in the nation in all-purpose running (172.1) and No. 18 in receiving yards per game (104). He is tied for third in touchdown receptions with eight.

His 345 all-purpose yards in last week’s 56-45 win over Maryland were not only a Clemson record, but the fourth-highest single game total in ACC history.

“His performance at Maryland was one of the best individual performances I’ve seen since -- who’s that one guy we had a couple of years ago, C.J. Spiller?” Allen said with a laugh.

Watkins broke Spiller’s all-purpose yardage record last week and now has 46 receptions for 728 yards and eight touchdowns, all school freshman records. He leads all freshmen nationally in reception yards per game, all-purpose running yards per game and touchdown receptions.

“He looks like Spider-Man," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "The ball just sticks to his hands."

Brad Scott, who has since moved into an administrative role as director or recruiting, began watching Watkins at South Fort Myers High in Florida in the spring before his sophomore season.

“I’ve coached for a little over 32 years, so you’ve seen some good players, and I was around some good teams,” Scott said. “As I kept watching him into his senior year ... the further along I just kept seeing him doing some amazing things in a high school game and having the ability to single-handedly put his team on his back and carry them to victory.

“I remember walking away the last game I saw him in, just kind of shaking my head and thinking, ‘Hey, this guy could be really special,’” Scott said. “He’s right up there in the category with some of the very best I’ve ever seen in high school.”

Despite the fact he was oozing with potential, Watkins was given no promises about playing time. In fact, he said he was surprised he cracked the starting lineup so early. It wasn’t until the week of the Auburn game that Watkins realized just how much of a factor he was expected to be in the new offense. The coaches had designed the plays for Watkins to be the first option, and he has repeatedly come through for them and first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd.

“When God made this one,” Swinney said, “He was in a great mood that day.”

Not a bad start -- for a freshman.
Former Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott has retired from coaching and former Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell has been hired as his replacement.

This is a great hire for Clemson, and an important piece to the offensive puzzle.

Caldwell has 33 years experience in college coaching, including stints at Furman (1978-85), NC State (1986-99), North Carolina (2000-01) and Vanderbilt (2002-10). He served as Vanderbilt’s head coach this past season after eight years as offensive line coach with the Commodores.

“Robbie Caldwell is a great fit for Clemson, our players and our coaching staff,” coach Dabo Swinney said in a prepared statement. “He is very similar to Coach Brad Scott in a number of ways and it should be a good transition for our players. It is a good time for a change from the standpoint that we have four returning starters in the offensive line.

“Robbie is one of the most respected coaches in the business. He is a proven offensive line coach and recruiter. He has 30 years of coaching experience and has developed some outstanding players over the years.

“He is a native of South Carolina who had a great career as a player and a coach at Furman. He knows this state and will be an asset to us in recruiting this area. We are pleased to have him join our staff.”

Scott will move into an administrative area within the Clemson athletic department, working primarily with the football office.
Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott isn’t quite ready to say his group is “there yet,” but he saw definite signs this past spring that the Tigers’ front should be better than it was a year ago.

It’s going to have to be.

[+] EnlargeChris Hairston
Cliff Welch/Icon SMILeft tackle Chris Hairston has evolved into the leader of Clemson's veteran offensive line.
The roles have reversed at Clemson, where the superstar skill players have graduated, and the offensive linemen are now among the most experienced players on the field. With four starters returning, they’ll be depended upon heavily this fall to usher in a new duo of running backs while the offense could possibly also be under the direction of a rookie quarterback, should Kyle Parker decide to pursue his baseball career.

“We’re the veteran bunch now,” Scott said. “We lost Jacoby [Ford] out there at receiver, we lost C.J. [Spiller] at running back. ... We need to be able to load the team up on our shoulders. We don’t need to be the weak link. I think that our guys understand that. Even though we’re young at running back, we’re talented there still. They know that both of those backs have gotten some experience last year and are good players. This spring there was evidence these guys are going to do what they need to do to accept that role and that responsibility.”

It starts with left tackle Chris Hairston, who will be in his third season as a starter and has become the leader of the group. Hairston has started 23 of the past 27 games and was missed when he was out of the lineup. Clemson was 9-3 last year when he started and 0-2 when he was out with an injury. His performance in the Tigers’ 40-37 overtime win against Miami was key, as Hairston graded out at 85 percent and had seven knockdown blocks.

Landon Walker is also a returning two-year starter at tackle. He started 12 games last year and had 33 knockdown blocks, including five against TCU when he held All-American Jerry Hughes without a sack and just two tackles.

Dalton Freeman is the returning starter at center, a position he took over for the final nine games of 2009. His first start came against Wake Forest, the school his father played for. The Tigers also have Mason Cloy, who started five games last year at center but suffered a broken leg in the ACC title game.

Junior Antoine McClain started all 14 games last year and was second on the team with 68 knockdown blocks. He had 12.5 against Georgia Tech in the regular season and 10 more in the ACC title game.

Scott said the most progress has been seen in run blocking, but the overall communication has been better, as is their ability to know the calls and techniques that need to be executed in a split second against ever-changing defenses. Both Hairston and Walker’s pass protection also continues to improve. That will be vital if rookie Tajh Boyd will be taking over at quarterback.

“Certainly we think we’ll be a solid group again,” Scott said. “They made great strides last year and by the end of the year were playing pretty doggone good. The kids have matured, they’re more confident, certainly understand the system, and had a pretty good spring. The depth is always the issue, developing the young players, but I think we’re gaining from the experience most of these young men have had over the last two years.”

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Clemson, in need of a new head coach in mid-season, expectedly turned to its own staff for a replacement. Unexpectedly, though, the administration snubbed the only two assistants with head coaching experience on their resume in favor of wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney.

 
 Rex Brown/Getty Images
 Dabo Swinney will take over as head coach for Tommy Bowden.

Who?

Swinney, who is 39 years old and in his sixth season at Clemson, has never been a head coach before. He got his start in coaching at Alabama, his alma mater, where he coached the receivers and tight ends until 2000. Swinney took over Clemson's receivers in 2003. Much was written about Swinney this preseason because of his ties to the Tigers' opponent in the season opener.

This story in the Birmingham News covered the ups and downs of his career, including last season when Swinney was almost lured back to Alabama by Nick Saban.

Swinney has earned a reputation as a top-notch recruiter who's a smooth talker and good with boosters and the media. He was chosen over defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who was head coach at Wyoming and more than capable of taking over the team. Koenning is a good coach whose candor with the media might have been a factor in the decision.

Swinney was also chosen over associate head coach Brad Scott, who was head coach at South Carolina. His 23-32-1 record there from 1994-1998 might have hurt a bit. So might the struggles of the offensive line, the position he coaches.

Then again, it could be as simple as a vote of confidence in Swinney.

"I think that just speaks about how much respect they have for [Swinney]," center Thomas Austin said. "We have a lot of veteran coaches on our staff. I just think the kind of person he is, and I think he can bring a level of intensity and enthusiasm that can really help the team."

Right now, heading into a tough game against Georgia Tech, this team needs all the help it can get.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Everywhere Clemson associate head coach and offensive line coach Brad Scott goes around this small town, he's asked about his offensive line. Church. Restaurants. The grocery store.

"I hear it everywhere I go," he said with a laugh. "My wife asks the same question. I said that's not fair, don't you dare ask me that question."

He knows, though, that his group is the biggest question mark the Tigers have heading into a season bursting with expectations.

"We've got the bull's-eye on our backs," Scott said.

There's something about this group, though, he likes. They're friends. They live together, eat together. What they're lacking right now is continuity and starting experience. Scott is trying to make decisions as quickly as he can so he can keep five guys together for the remainder of camp and they develop that trust factor.

So far, here's what he's looking at:

  • Center Thomas Austin is the lone returning starter. He's mature. He's married. And he's making sure the younger players keep their focus.
  • Right guard Barry Humphries started seven games, including five at center and two at right guard. ("But he's got 700 snaps" Scott said, "so I would call him a veteran player.")
  • Left tackle Chris Hairston started in the Chick-fil-A Bowl game against Auburn at right tackle, and logged about 250 snaps in 2007.
  • Right Tackle Cory Lambert played about 150 snaps last season and 26 straight games over the past two seasons, but has just one start.
  • Left guard Jamarcus Grant has played less than 100 snaps.

"He's been the biggest question coming in, but has had one of our best camps," Scott said. "These guys understand they've got to produce. They're working extremely hard. There's a nice chemistry to this group. We are a little unproven but I love their work ethic. If that has anything to do with them having success, then I think we're going to be OK, but it's like a bag of tea. You don't know what you're going to get until you put it in hot water."

There's no doubt the temperature will rise in the season opener against Alabama. Nick Saban is bound to throw multiple defenses at this young group, and while the Tigers have film to study, the question is what Saban is working on this summer that isn't on film, and how quickly Clemson's younger players can adjust to things they haven't seen.

"You've got guys like Barry Humphries and Jamarcus Grant and Cory and Chris who have been in the program for several years and know the terminology," Austin said. "Watching it and practicing it is completely different from doing it full-speed live. Taking that head knowledge and applying it is what we're working on, and building that cohesion that is so vital for an offensive line."

The coaches have done preliminary work on Alabama, but the players are still working on installing offenses and fundamentals. The last 10 practices will be used to game plan for the season opener in the Georgia Dome.

"I don't think it's a group that's going to go out there and lay an egg," Scott said.

Especially with all of the playmakers around them.

"These backs are capable of making some guys miss," Scott said. "Certainly this is the best scenario to have, no doubt about it."

All they need, running back C.J. Spiller said, is a split second.

"That's all we ask of those guys," he said. "A split second I think will get it done."

This will be the second year in a row Clemson will have to replace four starters on the offensive line. The difference was last year, there were fifth-year seniors taking over. Now there is an infusion of youth.

"They're coming along very good," Spiller said. "They're doing way better than what people expect them to do. They're going up against a great defensive line, and that will only make them better every day. And I like the chemistry that they have up there.

"They believe in each other, they make the right calls. They're not letting the outside pressure get to them. With Thomas Austin anchoring the o-line, he's making sure those guys stay focused and don't worry about what people say about them. They'll be ready by the time games start."

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