Tigers getting the message: Pivotal summer for Clemson's returning players on offense

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris served the same role at Tulsa last season, which ranked fifth in the nation in total offense.

SUNSET -- After spring practice, Chad Morris conducted seven- minute meetings with each member of his offense. The exit interviews were short enough to keep the attention span of players of the Twitter age, but long enough to communicate his initial impressions.

"Basically, it is me talking for seven minutes, and you're listening," said Morris, the new Clemson offensive coordinator. "I'm telling you exactly what I think of you, where you are and what you have to do.

"I've challenged a lot of those guys."

With a talented freshman class arriving for preseason camp, how veteran players apply messages from the seven- minute meetings this August could go a long way toward deciding their future at Clemson.

"We all know the type of talent we have coming in, but we also have some great talent right now," Morris said. "We have to spur them on and get them going."

Unlike last year at Clemson when then-freshman DeAndre Hopkins did not start a game until Week 4 at North Carolina, Morris and the offensive staff will not be as cautious in allowing freshmen to play early this fall, though Morris would prefer to ease them in. Head coach Dabo Swinney said 27 to 30 freshmen and redshirt freshmen will play this season. It would not be a surprise to see freshman receiver Sammy Watkins start early in the season.

"(The returning players) had 15 days to prove themselves this spring," Morris said. "I'm going to be really focused on these freshman guys coming in for fall camp. I know what some of these (veterans) can do -- I saw them in spring camp. Some of these guys came in highly recruited and haven't cut it.

"Going to practices this spring, I was very surprised with our lack of speed. The only thing I had to compare it to was speed on our defense and it wasn't even close."

The receiver position should be especially competitive, and it is an important summer for players like redshirt sophomore Bryce McNeal and junior Jaron Brown, once thought to be key assets. McNeal was thought to be a player who could bring a vertical element to the passing game but caught just 19 passes for 187 yards last season.

"You hope Bryce McNeal can have (a good camp); you see flashes and then where is the rest?" Morris said. "You've seen what (Hopkins) can do but you hope he can get better. Brandon Ford, he's another one. He's big and has a big body, but where does he fit in? He has to learn how to get physical. Jaron Brown is another one who is going to be pushed.

"I wouldn't be sitting here if their way worked. Their way didn't work."

Clemson receivers coach Jeff Scott said the staff will create more pressure situations earlier in camp to accelerate the learning curve for freshmen. The uptempo offense will also create more snaps and more opportunities for young players in early games against Troy and Wofford.

"When we go 11 on 11, when the ball is up in the air, who is going to make the catch? That is something we want to know getting ready for those first few games," Scott said.

Morris wants better performances from linemen like Brandon Thomas, once thought to be the future at left tackle, and hopes current first-string left tackle Phillip Price continues his improvement.

But the returning player under the most pressure is quarterback Tajh Boyd.

"I think Tajh has to have a good summer," Morris said. "It's imperative that he has a good summer. He knows it. Everyone knows it. His team knows it. They are holding him accountable He is holding himself accountable. I think what he has done to this point he has had a great summer. … He's watching film on his own. He's ready to prove himself. This is a pivotal year in his career. Going back to competition, he needs to be pushed. Yes, it is his job but there are a lot of things we are expecting from him."

The message is clear: with a talented class making its arrival, and another on the way, impressions made this August could be lasting.