CLEMSON -- If practice and game reps were not splintered amongst eight receivers during an extended competition, if they would have been given exclusively to DeAndre Hopkins, Bryce McNeal, Jaron Brown and Marquan Jones, might the Clemson passing game be more potent today? Might it be more harmonious heading into a critical game at North Carolina?
Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier said the wide receiver competition has affected continuity in the passing game.
Through four games, eight Clemson wide receivers have combined for 608 snaps, with newly minted starters Brown, McNeal and Hopkins accounting for 278 snaps. Veterans Xavier Dye and Terrance Ashe combined for three catches in 167 plays.
The Tigers' fortunes might depend upon whether their young receivers' learning curves are steep or shallow.
"The passing game is very technical in terms of timing and consistency, so the competition at (wide receiver) has affected that to some degree," Napier said. "Last year, we knew who we had. Those guys consistently practiced with Kyle (Parker) and there was a comfort zone there.
"As we move forward, I think we can improve in terms of continuity and comfort level and confidence. I also feel like we'll get better as a staff once we get that narrowed down and we have a comfort level with each kid and what we think their strengths are. We can show up each week and try to get the most out of what we got and ultimately that is our job."
While Hopkins and Brown's playing time increased the last two weeks, why wait till Week 6 to make a full commitment?
"One of the things you've gotta make sure you understand is that you've got some veterans that have been around and worked their butts off and deserved an opportunity," Napier said. "Giving them a chance, 'Hey, go earn it,' in terms of team chemistry and morale and all that."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney indicated Tuesday this was the timetable he had in mind at receiver.
"We hoped that it would play itself out by now, (four) games in," Swinney said. "Guys get opportunities when they earn them. It's been a very competitive."
Parker averaged a paltry 4.5 yards per attempt against the Hurricanes, and completed just two of 10 passes more than 20 yards downfield at Auburn and against Miami.
Clemson hopes Hopkins and McNeal can be legitimate deep threats to open up Clemson's vertically challenged passing game. Hopkins leads all Clemson wideouts in catches (six), and led the wideouts with three catches versus Miami.
Napier believes Hopkins will give Parker greater confidence in throwing the ball downfield: "From Kyle's standpoint: 'Hey this guy (Hopkins) will go get it. He'll make a play.' "
Parker noted all three of Hopkins' catches against Miami came in man-to-man coverage against talented Hurricanes defensive backs. Miami ranks sixth nationally in pass defense.
"The biggest thing is (Hopkins) got open and got up and made plays," Parker said. "I threw two to him the other day; he went up and made the play. If he continues to do that, it's going to allow us to get the defense in a different look. They probably won't want to come up and play man."
Napier said McNeal, while not as fast as Jacoby Ford, has some of the same field- stretching characteristics.
"I think the guy has ability to penetrate the field. We need to use that guy to do that," Napier said. "That's the decision we made. I'm excited about cutting them loose and letting them go play."
Hopkins tweaked his groin muscle in practice and missed the second half of practice, but should be able to play.
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).
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