Clemson Football: Who Will Be Clemson's Breakout Player in 2013?
In 2011, Clemson's breakout player was quarterback Tajh Boyd and then All-American freshman receiver Sammy Watkins. Last season, it was DeAndre 'Nuk' Hopkins, the unquestioned No. 1 receiver who made opposing defensive backs pay week after week. By the end of the season, Hopkins had racked up 1,405 yards with 18 touchdowns.
But who will break out for Clemson in 2013?
On offense, everyone knows what to expect of the main duo in the record-setting quarterback Boyd and the dynamic Watkins at receiver. But this offense, even without Hopkins on the outside or All-ACC running back Andre Ellington in the backfield, still remains one of the most dangerous in the country.
A lot of eyes are on the remainder of the receiving corps. Charone Peake, who filled in nicely during Watkins' absences in 2012, could take that next step as a starter. With both Hopkins and Jaron Brown both gone, Peake is the favorite to win one of those two positions.
On the other hand, you have Martavis Bryant, whose 6'4" frame nicely complements his speed, which makes him a great deep threat in the passing game. Head coach Dabo Swinney has been pleased by Bryant's good spring and consistency off the field which, in the past, has limited his time on the field due to academic and injury issues.
And of course, there's Adam Humphries, who has been a sure-handed possession receiver for Clemson and could see more time in the rotation in the slot.
One guy that has burst onto the scene, however, has been freshman tight end Jordan Leggett. The coaches have stated that he has gained 15 pounds and has great speed for his 6-6 frame, and could become a surprise factor with the Tigers looking to replace the departed Brandon Ford. If he continues his progression, he could be in the running to avoid a redshirt. Leggett is also one of four early freshman who enrolled in January and is able to participate in spring practice.
But the breakout performances are not exclusive to the offense either, as the Tigers could have someone break out for the defense in 2013, which will be a continual point of criticism for a Clemson team looking to take their talents to Pasadena in 2014.
Swinney has been encouraged by the progress the defense has made in defensive coordinator Brent Venables' second season, and says it is "night and day" compared to last season.
And no matter what, they can't appear to stop talking about linebacker Kellen Jones, who is looking to get plenty of time at linebacker. In addition to being familiar with Venables' scheme after transferring from Oklahoma, he is able to play both the Will and Mike positions. With Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey handling the Mike positions, Jones could see most of his time at the Will spot.
Along the defensive line, the Tigers bring back plenty of experience from last season, but the position to watch will be defensive end. The coaches will look to give Vic Beasley more time on the field after leading the team last season as a situational pass-rusher with eight sacks, which was good enough for fourth in the ACC. The biggest question for Beasley is whether or not he can gain more weight, but his presence could have been used a little more at defensive end where the pass rush was inconsistent.
Factoring into the breakout equation could be defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Ebenezer Ogundeko, with both having enrolled in January. Each player has a chance to factor in at the defensive end rotation with the departure of Mallicah Goodman.
In the secondary, which was the Tigers' primary weakness in 2012 due to a number of injuries and inconsistency, Travis Blanks has a bigger opportunity to build his brand after moving to safety full-time in the offseason. Blanks worked as the hybrid linebacker/nickelback last season alongside Quandon Christian, but the move to safety now gives him the opportunity to work as a full-time starter and showcase the skills that Tiger fans only caught glimpses of in 2012.
Blanks' aggressiveness, ball skills and ability in coverage will give the Tigers comfort in the deep field and in run support, with the only issue being the opposite safety spot and who will occupy it.
The 2012 season was a great run for the Tigers, and the 2013 season has the chance to be a special run for this team provided another player or two break out for Clemson.
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