Clemson Football 2012: Predicting the Pre-Spring Two-Deep Depth Chart
As the weather warms up and winter drifts slowly into spring, spirits are lifting for collegiate athletes and all of college football faithful.
All of this can only mean one thing: the beginning of spring practice.
And for the Tigers, this spring is an opportunity to capitalize on a successful 2011 ACC Championship campaign. But at the same time, it's also a time that Clemson can regain the footing it lost in a historically embarrassing 70-33 loss against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
And to regain that footing, new defensive coordinator Brent Venables is looking to repair a broken Clemson defense that has been plagued for too long by mobile quarterbacks and spread offenses.
Meanwhile, the Tiger offense looks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump in their second year under Chad Morris; they're also looking to get tougher in the ground game after losing three starting offensive linemen.
Coming into the spring, the Tigers may not have the level of competition at the skill positions, but all eyes will focus in the trenches and on the Venables-led Clemson defense.
First Team QB: Tajh Boyd
Second Team QB: Cole Stoudt
Is there really any question?
In his first season as a starter, Boyd threw 33 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and was instrumental to Clemson's success in an entirely new offense under Chad Morris.
This position remains relatively young; true sophomore Cole Stoudt returns as the primary backup after beating out Tony McNeal for the position.
Stoudt showed potential after relieving an injured Boyd against Boston College.
First Team RB: Andre Ellington
Second Team RB: DJ Howard
As was the case with the quarterbacks, Andre Ellington will be the unquestioned starter given his ability, talents and experience.
Ellington will be an invaluable piece in the running game given the fewer number of running backs that he has behind him. One such runner includes DJ Howard, a redshirt running back who last year flashed potential as a powerful runner but is still raw and needs time to develop the rest of his game.
Mike Bellamy could possibly push Howard for the spot if he handles his off-field issues and proves he can hold on to the ball in traffic.
Wide Receivers/Tight End
First Team WRs: Sammy Watkins, Deandre Hopkins, Jaron Brown
Second Team WRs: Adam Humphries, Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake
Clemson has one of the best skill position sets in the ACC in terms of receiving ability.
The group only loses Marquan Jones and returns All-American receiver Sammy Watkins and the sure-handed Deandre Hopkins.
A steady rotation of Brown, Humphries, Bryant and Peake is waiting in the wings and comes through whenever they take the field.
First Team Tight End: Brandon Ford
Second Team Tight End: Sam Cooper/Eric MacClain
At tight end, the group loses a dynamic playmaker in Dwayne Allen but returns Brandon Ford. He proved himself capable of a starting spot in playing time behind Allen.
Behind him, Cooper and MacClain will duke it out for the second string spot during spring and fall camp.
First Team OL: Isaiah Battle, Brandon Thomas, Dalton Freeman, Tyler Shatley, Joe Gore
Second Team OL: Gifford Timonthy, Kalon Davis, Ryan Norton, David Beasely, Reid Webster
All eyes will be on the offensive line, as they look to replace three of five starters, especially at the tackle position, where a former defensive linemen in Joe Gore and a freshman in Isaiah Battle are getting the first looks.
Tyler Shatley, a former defensive tackle, has been moved to right guard and has opened eyes as a potential starter going forward.
Outside of that, the O-line is very young, with developing depth a primary concern this spring.
First Team: Mallicah Goodman, Deshawn Williams, Grady Jarrett, Corey Crawford
Second Team: Roderick Byers, Tavaris Barnes, Jerome Maybank, Josh Watson
If all eyes were on the offensive line, just as many will be on the defensive line, with the loss of three starters in Andre Branch, Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore.
With the loss of Branch, the defense will be counting on Goodman and Crawford to step up the pass-rush and prove stout against the run.
On the inside, with no proven or experienced starters, there will be plenty of flipping. But before the rest of the recruits arrive on campus, the next in line will be working with the first team by default.
And that means rising sophomores Williams and Jarrett will get a chance to make an impression this spring.
First Team: Stephone Anthony, Johnathan Willard, Quandon Christian
Second Team: BJ Goodson/Lateek Townsend, Corico Hawkins, Justin Parker/Tony Steward
One of the reasons that new defensive coordinator Brent Venables was brought in was to improve the play of Clemson's linebackers. And thus far, he is making an impression, especially with rising sophomore linebacker Anthony, who is working at both Will and Mike positions.
Johnathan Willard looks to have a good shot of getting into the starting lineup in the spring.
But, young linebackers like Lateek Townsend or BJ Goodson have plenty of upside and may be bigger factors sooner rather than later.
First Team: Bashaud Breeland, Travis Blanks, Rashard Hall, Johnathan Meeks
Second Team: Martin Jenkins, Darius Robinson, Robert Smith, Cortez Davis
First Team Nickel Back: Xavier Brewer
Second Team Nickel Back: Garry Peters
This young secondary had liabilities in coverage and took several steps backwards in 2011.
This season, a highly sought defensive back named Travis Blanks is an early enrolled recruit from Florida and has already caught the attention of coaches during spring practice.
Because of the way that the secondary played last season, Blanks looks on his way to a starting position on day one. Hall looks to come back healthy by fall practice after knee surgery. Meeks was inconsistent in coverage last year and looks to shore up, especially in deep pass coverage.
Breeland was a tougher corner in run support who showed flashes of potential and must work on his skills in man to man coverage.
First Team PK: Chandler Cantanzaro
Second Team PK: Spencer Benton
First Team Punter: Bradley Pinion
Second Team Punter: Spencer Benton
Special teams was an area of improvement last season; kicker Chandler Cantanzaro redeemed his disappointing 2010 season by making over 70 percent of his field goals.
Spencer Benton will continue to handle backup duties and handle kickoffs on special teams. But this unit loses a valuable punter in Dawson Zimmerman and will look to true freshman Bradley Pinion to continue where Zimmerman left off.