Boston College had a very tough 2011 campaign. Marred by injury, youth and general ineffectiveness, the normally consistent Eagles failed to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season, and instead went 4-8. I sat down with Boston College offensive lineman Emmett Cleary as part of SB Nation's coverage of the ACC Football Kickoff.
"It was a disaster. Nobody comes to Boston College to go 4-8. It's not an excuse, but we had a lot of bad breaks, a lot of injuries and not a lot of healthy veterans. And 4-8 is what happens when you don't play well and have those limitations," Cleary said.
But the senior has hope for 2012.
"We are more than capable. We have more than enough talent to turn it around. And on the flipside of that, having a down year is a great motivating factor. We were young and inexperienced, but now we do have more guys with experience, and we're really excited to go hit somebody," he said.
Before delving into 2012, I wanted to know if there was one factor that has led to the Eagles having three different coordinators in as many years.
"When you get down to it, it's just players not making plays. That's been the constant factor," he said when asked if he could point to one specific reason for the three-year slide. "Another part of it is with my class, we signed 34 guys, and we only have eight or nine left. We don't have a whole lot up top. And we've just had two down years," he added.
"Having done it a couple times, I'm better at it," Cleary said. "The challenge is in the terminology and finding the emphasis of different coaches. Everybody runs zone, counter, power, trap, ya know, you have your slide protections, your play action. But there's different emphasis and aiming points on each play. But the terminology is the biggest part."
Cleary feels good about this year's offense.
"We have it down. We had a good spring, we were really moving the ball, and I've been doing this for five years and we definitely look better now than we did in some years," he said of the progress to date.
Having done so twice before, Cleary is an old hand at adjusting to a new offensive scheme.
"Yes and no. I mean, if you want to go back three years ago, you never want to not have any quarterbacks. And you never want your big rusher to go down," Clearly said when asked if there is something he knows now that he wished he knew in 2010 or 2011 with implementing a new offense.
The reason for Cleary's confidence in the 2012 offense can be described in one word: "fit."
"I do like what we're doing," Cleary said. "It fits the personnel. We have a big, athletic offensive line. We have a lot better talent and more speed out wide. They're good in space. And we have three backs that we trust with the ball. And [Chris] Pantale is the best tight end in the ACC."
"Our starting 11 is as good as it gets right now. Our top three wideouts are probably Larmond, Swaggert and Amadon. And they killed it this spring. Swaggert was hurt with a shoulder, obviously, but we've seen what he can do in the past. Getting Larmong back is big, and Amadon really came on in the spring. We're going to get him the ball and I'm excited about what's going on," Cleary added of the fit of the new offense and the existing personnel.
What will the new offense look like?
"It's more spread than it's been," Cleary said. "Last year you saw a lot of double tight ends. This year it will be a little more open. That said, we still run a lot of the same things. We just run them from different formations. The greatest difference will be that we're going to push. We're going to force you to defend everything. We have guys at every spot who can make plays. If you're sitting in the box, we're going over the top. If you're too wide we'll go up the gut. If will look a little different, but the main difference will be that we have the personnel to make it work a lot better."
"All of our backs are capable of hurting you out of the backfield, but Fish is especially great on screens. We saw that last year, with three or four real big screen runs. I think Cambell will be a revelation in open space. He's impossible to tackle one-on-one. If we can get him the ball out wide, he'll make plays."
If fit is one of the major reason for confidence in 2012, what does that say about the scheme from 2011?
"The scheme was sound last year. It was just a failure of execution," Cleary said when asked if there was anything the Eagles ran in 2011 that frustrated him and that he is happy they no longer run. "But, at the same time, this scheme fits what we have really well. We have one big tight end, we have three very good wideouts, and I think what we're doing with them will put them in specific spots to succeed."
Coach Frank Spaziani is thought to be one of the coaches squarely on the hot seat. But Cleary says he doesn't notice a change in the head man.
"Motivation isn't in short supply. As any college football player will tell you, when you that every game is important. You don't play for that stuff," Cleary said. "I know [Spaziani] doesn't care, but at the same time, I feel bad because players play and coaches coach. If we win the games we're supposed to win this year, he'll be vindicated."
"He's true to his guns. He grinds. And that's the personality that he's imparted to our team. That toughness and respect for the process."