Week 1 of spring practice for the Clemson Tigers has been put into the books, and the Road to Pasadena has officially begun for the team.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is looking for more than a starting running back in his third season, while Brent Venables has his first full offseason to implement his defensive schemes and find an effective combination at linebacker and some consistency in the secondary. He must also replace the vacant position at one of the defensive end spots after the departure of Malliciah Goodman.
Even in Week 1 of spring practice, stocks have developed and are beginning to rise and fall. And some players have seen their own rise and fall.
With the void left by All-ACC Andre Ellington at running back, Rod McDowell has picked up where he left off, according to the coaching staff. McDowell has worked the most with the first-team offense, and having a solid spring will go a long way towards the fall once the likes of Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman, both highly touted backs, arrive in the summer.
If you remember, McDowell spent 2012 as Ellington's primary backup, rushing for 450 yards and five touchdowns in his role.
The coaches are challenging running back D.J. Howard to make that next step forward after he showed so much potential in 2011 but took a step backwards in 2012. Howard dealt with nagging injuries all season, which was part of the reason he lost the backup job he held in 2011 to McDowell. Howard has run the ball well between the tackles and has shown he can get the tough yards when needed. Having a short-yardage back will help take the pressure off of Tajh Boyd and keep him from taking more hits.
This spring is especially important for Howard, especially with Zac Brooks close behind him and looking for time in the running back rotation.
This season, it appears that the Tigers now have both the talent and numbers at linebacker. Contrary to early beliefs, Venables has kept Stephone Anthony, who spent more time on the sidelines than the field in the second half of last season, at the "Mike" middle linebacker position, where he has spent the offseason getting bigger, coming in at an imposing 6'2", 246 pounds.
Spencer Shuey, who took over for Anthony, has become the swing player and has seen time at the vacant "Will" weak-side position along with Tony Steward and Kellen Jones, who had to sit out a year as a transfer from Oklahoma.
Venables is very optimistic about this group of linebackers, a unit for which the Tigers have been desperately searching for answers for several seasons.
There is an open competition at the defensive end spot vacated by Malliciah Goodman, and so far there hasn't been too much to be said about the progress in the first week of practice.
Vic Beasley is looking for more field time than that of a rush specialist, but the coaches want him to gain a little more weight before putting him on the field in an expanded role. Beasley ranked fourth in the ACC with eight sacks in his limited role last season. Dabo Swinney noted that he wanted him to gain about 10 more pounds and become more committed to his craft.
Others vying for that position include freshman Shaq Lawson, who enrolled from Hargrave in January and is looking to make an impression in his first spring. Tavaris Barnes and Kevin Dodd will also be vying for the position.
Coaches are high on lineman Isaiah Battle and have stated that they want him to win the position at left tackle. Battle saw his most extended action in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against LSU and held his own against the likes of NFL defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery.
Battle has great intangibles for a great left tackle at 6'6", 280 pounds. Battle at left tackle would push veteran Brandon Thomas inside to left guard, where some think he is a better fit for the offensive line. Thomas played guard for most of 2011 and performed well in that role.
Yes, this is a backup position, but it is arguably the second biggest battle next to the running back position. Incumbent Cole Stoudt, who has held down the position for two seasons, will have another competitive battle to hold off redshirt freshman Chad Kelly, who was a highly touted prospect out of the state of New York recruited by Chad Morris himself.
So far, there has not really been any word on their progress, and it's likely we won't hear much until we get deeper into spring practice and even into fall camp. The two appear to be splitting reps, though it's hard to gauge an advantage after one week.
Stoudt is the more pure pocket passer of the two, while the coaches are high on Kelly's dual-threat ability in this offense. Stoudt has played well in mop-up duty his first two years, and on the few occasions he has had to come into the game, he has run the offense well.