Leggett, Clemson tight ends try to rebound from down years

Clemson's Jordan Leggett (16) reaches in vain for a catch as Wake Forest's Ryan Janvion (22) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

CLEMSON — Representing a lost position in the receiving column of the stat sheet, tight end Jordan Leggett has had enough of the disappointment.

These days, he’d prefer to prove it on the field with his play, not off it with his mouth.

Although an interview this week with Clemson’s most talented tight end gleaned similar responses to an interview last August — namely, the respect for blocking, Dwayne Allen and the Mackey Award — Leggett understands this sport is more show-it than shout-it.

“Biggest thing is you don’t have to call him out nearly as much,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said this spring. “He’s trying to be verbal, but he’s not a naturally loud person. You see him trying to assert himself.”

It’s not just about Jordan, whose first headline was in the context of “Lazy Leggett” following his own commentary about lacking practice habits during his freshman season. The position’s pool, past (Darrell Smith, Sam Cooper) and present (Stanton Seckinger, Jay Jay McCullough), have grossly underperformed in an offense crafted for fantasy football-type numbers.

Following the glory years of Michael Palmer, Allen and Brandon Ford, Clemson’s tight ends collectively caught 45 balls for 497 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, and then just 31 receptions for 385 yards and three scores in 2014.

Last year’s totals average out to a ghastly 2.4 catches and 29.6 yards per game.

“It definitely gets to us. Two years ago, they were talking about how our production was down and the fullbacks were doing better than us,” Leggett said. “Last year put a stamp on it. I’m trying to get better and be like the Dwayne Allen of this year, show out.”

Leggett keeps in touch here and there with Allen — who hauled in eight TDs last fall from Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts — and his name-comparison isn’t made simply for the sake of comparing names.

Leggett and co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott each laid out exactly why Leggett or anyone else hasn’t replicated Allen’s success, and it has nothing to do with raw talent, which Leggett’s got.

“We were at our very best with guys like Dwayne Allen that can do everything,” Scott said. “You don’t want to tell the defense what you’re doing based on the personnel that’s on the field. When you play fast tempo and don’t have to sub based on whether it’s a short-yardage or passing down, I think the production will be able to increase.”

When Chad Morris left for SMU leaving the offense is new hands, Elliott personally told Leggett he wanted to see him become a dominant 3-back — Clemson’s term for a hybrid halfback/tight end who lines up offset in the backfield.

“He said ‘we’ve kind of strayed from that over the years, so we’re going to go back to that, and I know it’s going to work,’ ” Leggett said.

As it has in the past for Leggett, it all goes back to how he protects on running downs, especially since Cooper has graduated and leaves the Tigers without a supreme blocking tight end.

“I’ve kind of got it down, but it’s a matter of perfecting it,” Leggett said. “The coaches don’t want to worry about bringing in a pass-protect back-side for the quarterback.”

Allen tallied 92 catches for 1,073 yards and 12 touchdowns during his Clemson career. Leggett’s far behind that pace entering his junior year, but his impact conceivably could be on par.

Since Seckinger is out for the spring rehabbing a knee injury, McCullough was recently reinstated from a months-long suspension and three freshmen are in the development stage, Leggett is the most obvious candidate to turn around the tight end woes.

“For him it’s that internal battle: It’s one thing to say, ‘I want to be the best.’ It’s another to go out and achieve it, and put in the work,” Elliott said. “He knows everybody’s counting on him.”