Clemson Football: Position Battles That Will Last into the Fall
Fans must think of spring practice as an inventory of what resources you have and how effective they'll be. Such is the case for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney coming into his fifth spring practice.
The thing is, not all inventory problems will be solved through a month of spring practice, which is merely step one in the process of building a team capable of BCS contention.
And not all of the position battles will be solved until fall camp once the recruits from the 2013 class arrive on campus. The fortunate thing is, this is a year for Clemson where major rebuilding will not be occurring at a major coaching position or an entire side of the football, as was the case last season with a questionable defense and the addition of Brent Venables.
But today, we will take a look at the main position battles in the spring that will carry over well into fall camp.
The secondary was the weakest part of the field for the Clemson defense. Coming into the spring, the Tigers lost both starting safeties from 2012 in Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks. Both were inconsistent, but the lack of depth and the injury situation kept them on the field.
Now, with Travis Blanks settling in at one of the safety spots, the other position is up for grabs. The next Tiger in line for the position has been Robert Smith, who has received the first-team reps up to this point in practice. Venables has called him "the most consistent" of the defensive backs this spring.
Smith has spent his first two years adjusting to the position after posting staggering numbers on offense coming out of high school. He has seen most of his time in backup duty and on special teams. He has been working at the strong safety position, with Blanks manning the free safety position.
While Smith has held the position, the Tigers signed eight defensive backs in the class. There could be fall competition from the likes of incoming freshman Jayron Kearse. Keep an eye on the strong safety position.
Keeping our focus on the secondary, the corner position was bleak by the end of the season. Injuries to Darius Robinson, Bashaud Breeland and Martin Jenkins (who redshirted as a result of his injury), made this position extremely thin by the latter half of the season.
Receiver Adam Humphries was even used as an emergency corner in case of further injury. Garry Peters was also brought on the field, and while he showed flashes, he was still overwhelmed at times.
This spring, all of the corners should be hearing footsteps behind them from the incoming recruiting class. The Tigers signed eight defensive backs, including two highly touted corners in Adrian Baker, who was rated as a 4-star prospect by ESPN, and the gem of the class, Mackensie Alexander, who was rated as 5-star prospect and as the fourth-best prospect on ESPN 150.
Alexander was rated as the second-best corner at his position and as the No. 2 player in the state of Florida.
Both of these two figure to contribute immediately in the secondary. The spring is the last chance for guys like Robinson, Peters and Breeland to make a strong case for themselves in the Tiger secondary.
Mind you, this competition is for the backup quarterback spot, as Tajh Boyd has no need to worry about his job security after his 2012 record-breaking campaign.
The Tigers in battle for the No. 2 spot are the incumbent backup, rising junior Cole Stoudt and redshirt freshman Chad Kelly. Stoudt has held the position for the past two seasons and is the more pure pocket passer, while Kelly is the better dual-threat.
But so far, Stoudt seems to have established himself and is not going to give up his spot so easily to Kelly, who was one of the most highly touted quarterback prospects in the 2012 recruiting class.
The coaches have noted that the biggest difference for Stoudt this spring has been his confidence. So far, the two quarterbacks have been splitting reps, and Chad Morris has stated that he is in no rush to name the backup quarterback anytime soon.
Running Back Rotation
The Tigers need to replace an All-ACC running back in Andre Ellington, who rushed for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons as the primary back in Clemson's offense. The question still lingers as to whether the Tigers will continue to rely on that one back or use more of a running back-by-committee approach in 2013.
The Tigers have three scholarship backs this spring in Rod McDowell, DJ Howard and Zac Brooks.
McDowell has gotten the first-team reps after working as the primary backup last season, while Howard and Brooks are making their case for the rotation before the fall, when a pair of good-sized backs will take the practice field alongside them: Tyshon Dye (6'0", 205) and Wayne Gallman (6'1", 200).
Howard struggled with injuries last season, which limited his progress. Brooks avoided a needed redshirt due to thin numbers at the position and only played 65 total snaps the entire season. He is looking to bulk up to 200 by August after entering the spring at 190 pounds.
Dye and Gallman both have a chance to compete and avoid redshirts, although the coaches are high on Dye and Swinney has told him to be ready to play.