CLEMSON, S.C. -- For the uninitiated, Clemson's multi-receiver offense can seem extremely complicated.
Kevin Youngblood watched intently from the sidelines last year as a redshirt freshman. The 6-foot-4 wideout was boggled by the complex scheme. He spent the majority of his time trying to decipher route patterns.
"Learning the plays," Youngblood said, "was like sitting in a classroom. I was a student out there. It's fast-paced. You have to be mentally ready more than physically."
Clemson's no-huddle offense is the brainchild of second-year coach Tommy Bowden and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez. The duo's aerial game had Frank Howard spinning in his grave and historians rewriting the Tigers' offensive record books.
No longer run-oriented, the Tigers' rapid-fire offense is designed to wear down opposing defenses by limiting substitutions. The quick-tempo philosophy is based more on reaction than thinking, which can be a difficult adjustment for inexperienced players.
"The pace is different than a conventional offense," wide receivers coach Rick Stockstill said. "You have to learn on the run. They've got to learn hand signals and reading defenses at the line of scrimmage."
Seniors Mal Lawyer and Brian Wofford made abandoning a run-oriented offense in favor of a pass-happy attack easier. The pair graduated as Clemson's greatest receiving tandem.
Lawyer and Wofford combined for 239 receptions and 3,112 yards during their careers. Stockstill must replace the 99 catches and 1,189 yards the Tigers lost when the duo's eligibility expired.
Luckily for the Tigers, record-breaking wideout Rod Gardner (80 catches, 1,084 yards) returns for his senior season.
After Gardner, Stockstill stares at uncertainty.
Senior Justin Watts, sophomores Jackie Robinson and Joe Don Reames and junior Matt Bailey had a combined 27 receptions for 292 yards in 1999.
Last year's squad shattered Clemson's single-season passing yardage record by almost 800 yards, but another 3,000-yard campaign rests with untested commodities.
"When the time comes, you have to bring your `A' game," Robinson said. "When given the opportunity, I have to catch the ball and help the team any way I can. There will be a lot more big plays. We have a lot of receivers that can make things happen with the ball."
Stockstill said this year's wideout crop is slower without Wofford. Freshman Ronnie Thomas has impressed Stockstill with his two-a-day performances. Another freshman, Derrick Hamilton, showed promise until he pulled a hamstring last week.
With Hamilton sidelined, Thomas has received more repetitions and could make immediate contributions. Stockstill has openings and desperately needs to provide Gardner, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, a strong supporting cast. Otherwise, the Tigers' play-maker will face constant double-teaming.
"There's no doubt in my mind they'll have this offense down when camp breaks," Stockstill said. "We're not real fast. Rod gave us a ton of big plays last year. He's got to continue to help us there."
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.
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