September 1st, 2012. 7 p.m. ET
That's the long-awaited date and time of Clemson's first-game kickoff against the Auburn Tigers in the Georgia Dome, where the Tigers will hold college football's first national Saturday night prime-time slot. It's an opportunity for the Tigers to redeem themselves after their embarrassing 70-33 loss against West Virginia.
But until then, fall camp will be the main focus for the Tigers, with new wrinkles to work on in the offense and a new defensive scheme to learn under new defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
And while the Tigers will have plenty returning on offense, and some potential on defense, there will, as was the case last year, need to be contributions from some of the Tiger freshmen, who will be forced into action again as the team faces yet another year with a young team at a good number of positions.
What freshmen, redshirt or otherwise, will have to make those contributions for Clemson this year? With the effect that Sammy Watkins had on the offense last season, what freshman could have their names become more known during the course of the season?
One such freshman will be defensive end Shaq Lawson, who, because of the lack of depth at defensive end behind Corey Crawford and Mallicah Goodman, will likely avoid a redshirt and become part of the defensive-end rotation.
Lawson's speed and high motor off the edge will be needed to provide a boost to a non-existent Clemson pass rush that saw fewer quarterbacks on the ground in extended periods when Andre Branch was double-teamed and blocked out of the play. And with no proven pass-rushers, Lawson may see a good amount of time in pass-rushing situations.
Defensive back Travis Blanks, the jewel of the 2012 class, will be counted on to shore up a porous pass defense that gave up too many big plays in the passing game and spark a secondary that did little to force turnovers or play with any aggression. Blanks' beginning role has been as the hybrid nickel corner, and with his tall safety-like frame, will be counted upon to work out of the slot.
With the academic ineligibility of Mike Bellamy, freshman Zac Brooks will avoid a redshirt year and become part of the running back corp to back up Andre Ellington along with DJ Howard and Rod McDowell.
Brooks' size can make him an important asset in the short-yardage game where Clemson often struggles. With DJ Howard entrenched as the main backup behind Ellington, Brooks will provide depth in a position shorter on numbers.
Defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, another big-time freshman the Tigers obtained in the 2012 recruiting class, could quickly become a part of the rotation at defensive tackle, where the Tigers must replace the production of Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore.
And with no proven answers here, Watkins could find himself a part of the main rotation early, and by midseason, a possible starter should none of the other defensive linemen truly separate themselves as a mainstay at the position.
With the Tigers looking to keep their success from their 2011 ACC Championship rolling, they must show that they can handle the pressure that success brings and be able to continue to play at a high enough level with the targets on their backs.
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