CLEMSON — Spring practice came to an end, players and coaches conducted exit interviews ahead of the summer and Jeff Scott had a specific charge for Diondre Overton.
“He challenged me to be more like Mike (Williams),” the sophomore wide receiver said of Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach.
“He sees a resemblance in our talent and how we came in as freshmen, so he challenged me to put my game to a high standard and I guess I’m held to that standard.”
Williams is off to the NFL and the Los Angeles Chargers, and in his place on the depth chart is junior Deon Cain — expected to be Clemson’s next marquee receiver.
But Overton, along with Trevion Thompson, is expected to back up Cain in a capacity that seems to have Clemson coaches giddy. For days, Dabo Swinney has brought up Overton’s name unprompted. On Thursday, Scott provided some insight into what it is about Overton the Tigers like so much.
“He’s not complete by any means, but he’s improved tremendously from last year. Obviously with a talented guy like Tee Higgins coming in that’s going to get a lot of attention and all that type of stuff, Overton was a guy that had to respond. And he did,” Scott said. “He’s probably the most improved player in that entire group from spring practice and the only reason is because of how he worked in the summer. That was very evident the first day he got out here.”
Overton, listed at 6-5, 200 pounds, is the Tigers’ tallest receiver, with Higgins next at 6-4. Scott said Overton worked on learning how to play lower during the offseason and also put a large emphasis on improving his releases. The result has been a more consistent player day in and day out, which gives Scott a viable option when Cain is not in the game.
Overton has been working at Clemson’s “9-man” receiver position, the same place Williams, Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant and Charone Peak all worked before they entered the NFL ranks.
“Deon can’t play 80 or 90 plays. We’ve got to be able to count on that second and third 9-men that come in the game,” Scott said. “We can’t call a timeout and ask the other team to take out their top corner and put in a backup because we’re putting our backup 9-man in. They’ve got to understand the standard doesn’t change.”
Overton played a limited role a season ago with two receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown in 107 snaps, but his first career catch was also his first career touchdown — a 45-yarder against South Carolina State.
As fall camp progresses, Overton is expected to continue to make progress as a legitimate backup contender for the Tigers. Part of Scott’s philosophy is to play multiple dominant receivers to wear down opposing defenses. Overton, with his height and potential, seems to fit the bill for what Clemson is looking for as he enters his second year in the program.
“I’ve seen the depth that we have this summer coming into camp and I just wanted to better myself, put myself in a position where I can help the team,” Overton said. “I knew it was going to take a little bit of time. That’s nothing to someone who’s willing to work. It took a little time, now it’s my time to shine.”