CLEMSON, S.C. -- There are the little things Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has to work on this offseason to become, as he says, "the most well-put-together quarterback" in the nation come August.
But before the little things came one giant thing.
Taking a shotgun snap.
Three springs ago, new offensive coordinator Chad Morris looked on in horror as he watched Boyd manhandle one snap after another. Boyd had never taken a shotgun snap before, and, well, he had problems.
"He would catch them with his stomach -- just like this," Morris said, jabbing his hands into his belly. "And it would just drive me crazy. So I didn’t think at that point that he would be where he is today. I thought we had to start with baby steps."
Those baby steps turned into monolithic steps. Boyd is the reigning ACC Player of the Year, has rewritten school and league quarterback records, and now has an eye toward a third consecutive 3,000-yard passing season. All those records are nice, but Boyd came back to school for something bigger: to help the Tigers win a national championship.
To do that, Boyd knows he has to be better than ever. If a trip to New York at the end of the season as Heisman finalist is the end result, so be it. But the goal this season is to win; and to win, Boyd has to improve in three key areas: footwork, decision-making and holding onto the football.
Footwork is one of the most overlooked aspects of good quarterbacking. Bad footwork often results in bad passes. To hone his skills in this area, Boyd spent his spring break in California learning from quarterback guru George Whitfield.
"Footwork leads to better decision-making and allows you to be more accurate," Boyd said.
And better decision-making means?
"Just being in better positions," he said. "Sometimes you have to play unorthodox. There will be times where you go out on a limb and make plays here and there, but other things are tactical, precise. When you’re talking about quarterbacking, one of the things that gets brought up is being a surgeon. What’s the difference between a surgeon and a butcher? They both cut meat. But you don’t want to get chopped up by a butcher. A surgeon is more precise, very into the details and that’s the biggest part of my game, just being so critical and precise on the small details of the game.
"It might not be that big of a deal to the blind eye but for people who study the game and understand what goes into a completion and things of that nature. Me, personally, I want to be the most well-put-together quarterback this fall."
And being the most well-put-together quarterback this fall means?
"Mechanically, decision-making and just being able to lead the team," Boyd said. "We open with a banger against Georgia, and we’re excited about that. Aaron Murray is a guy who is rated highly. I want to be able to outperform him. I don’t want question marks about my game after the season."
One of those question marks has focused on the aforementioned decision-making. Boyd threw 13 interceptions last season. Morris wants that number down to the single digits. Of the picks Boyd threw, Morris estimates that five were on bad decisions. A few, he says, were on him, for putting Boyd in a bad spot on third down. A few others were completely on Boyd, for throwing across his body and making an "impulse decision." And, as Morris says, "impulse decisions lead to bad things."
One of the most crucial mistakes came early in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. Trailing 20-17 and with momentum on the Tigers' side, Boyd stepped back to pass. He did not see Brison Williams coming across the middle. Williams made the interception, and Clemson dropped another heartbreaker to its instate rival.
"Tajh was one drive away from being in New York," Morris says. "If he would have completed the drive against South Carolina in the fourth quarter and we win the game, he goes to New York the next week for the Heisman Trophy. I think he was that close. It didn’t happen. There’s a few things we have to continue to work on, his reading of defenses, his footwork, just to be a well-rounded quarterback."
Does Morris expect Boyd to be in New York in December?
"Absolutely. I’m expecting to be there with him," Morris said. "That’s a goal of ours. It’s a goal he set for himself to come back. He feels like he can do that, and there’s no doubt. I think he’s one of the best in the country, I really do. You look at how many yards he’s accounted for in this offense, he’s rewritten every record Clemson’s had for quarterbacks. To have a third year underneath him in this system, I think the sky’s the limit."