The Clemson Tigers wrapped up their first week of spring practice last week before the school let out for spring break. The second session of spring practice will pick back up next Monday, March 24, as the Tigers have 10 more sessions remaining before the annual spring game on April 12.
The biggest storyline this spring is who Tajh Boyd's replacement at quarterback will be. Much of spring practice will be about finding an answer to that question.
Head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris aren't quite ready to answer that question yet.
After last Monday's practice, Swinney spoke candidly about the QB race, per David Hood of TigerNet.com:
It's wide-open. It's legitimately a competition. I'd save all the drama if I had all of that penciled in already. As I've said many times, I think we are blessed. We've got elite talent at that position, so you've got to let guys go compete. You've got to go through the process. It's just that simple.
And Swinney is right. There is nothing to be gained from naming a starter in March. You've got three good candidates in senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and freshman Deshaun Watson. Each player brings something unique to the position, and Morris can build his offense around any of the three.
Watson, though, remains the most intriguing of the bunch. By enrolling in January, Watson gave himself a legitimate opportunity to win the job next fall. He's simply that talented and Swinney clearly loves him:
Deshaun has been a leader his whole life. Now, he's walking into a situation where not many people know a whole lot about him, so he has to start over, and it's interesting to watch a young guy like that jump into the mix with grown men.
Expectations are definitely high for Watson, but fortunately for the Tigers, they have two other good options, too. Watson will not play before he's ready.
Enough about quarterbacks. There is a lot more going on at Clemson than just a quarterback battle.
Who will replace Chandler Catanzaro?
Catanzaro wasn't just a kicker. He is the school's all-time leading scorer, a three-time All-ACC selection and four-year starter. Replacing him won't be easy.
Swinney is confident the Tigers have their man, though.
Junior Ammon Lakip is having a strong spring and appears to be ready to replace Catanzaro. Swinney went as far as to say Lakip was one of the bright spots thus far in spring practice, per Clemson's official website:
I also said before practice started that I was concerned as to whom would take over for our all-time leading scorer. But, Ammon Lakip has been outstanding. He has missed just one kick, and that was a 53-yarder last Saturday. He then came back and made the next kick. We all know how critical that position is. If I had to call out a bright spot so far, it would be Ammon.
In a year where the Tigers are replacing so many starters on offense, getting consistency and reliability from the kicker is a must. The Tigers may be in some close games early in the season, so Lakip's rise couldn't have come at a better time.
While there are many questions surrounding Clemson's skill positions, the biggest concern is the offensive line. Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley are gone and won't be easily replaced.
Isaiah Battle is in line to replace Thomas at left tackle. Battle is the team's most athletic lineman and is a natural fit on the left side. He is big (6'6", 280) and possesses excellent footwork. However, Battle must keep his composure on the field.
Can the coaches trust Battle enough for him to protect a first-time starting quarterback's blind side?
Shatley was an All-ACC performer at guard, and replacing him could be even tougher.
Center Ryan Norton returns, as does his backup, Jay Guillermo. Both players are capable of shifting to guard if necessary.
When spring practice began two weeks ago, Morris had Battle, Eric Mac Lain, Norton, Kalon Davis and Shaq Anthony as his starting offensive line—from left to right.
Anthony is ready for a starting position this year. In his first two years on campus, he started a combined five games and showed a lot of promise. He is a potential All-ACC player at right tackle.
Davis, the projected starter at right guard, started 2013 as a backup but finished the season as the starter and played well. He replaced David Beasley at guard, who also returns this year. Both Davis and Beasley are massive and very good run-blockers.
While coaches would love to settle the starting lineup now, expect Swinney and Morris to work with several different combinations throughout the rest of spring practice and in the spring game. This group has experience and versatility. The key for the coaches is putting the five best linemen on the field, and that is still to be determined.
Youth in the secondary
The Tigers have plenty of experience up front in 2014. Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony will lead a ferocious pass rush next season.
But what about the secondary?
Surprisingly, cornerback Bashaud Breeland departed after his junior season for the NFL draft, which left the secondary a little short on experience.
While this group's lack of experience is cause for concern, there is plenty of talent.
Redshirt freshman cornerback MacKensie Alexander stands out the most. Alexander, a 5-star recruit in 2013, according to 247Sports (subscription required), looks like he will be starting this fall.
Alexander isn't the only freshman defensive back impressing Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, though. Adrian Baker and Marcus Edmond are both having a tremendous spring as well, per Hood:
We have a lot of young guys that are going to help our football team. MacKensie Alexander jumps out at you. Everyday he gets after the ball. I really only got to watch him one practice last year. Adrian Baker is another. Technique-wise, he is as good as anybody we've got. Everyday he's getting an interception. Same thing with Marcus Edmond. Maybe one of the moves we've made is T.J. Green to safety. He's different. We don't have many guys that move like he moves. He has a chance to be something else at safety. He still has a lot to learn, but he's fast and taken to it.
While many Clemson fans are nervous about the secondary—and rightfully so—that concern may not last long once they see this young group on the field come fall. It's possible the secondary will be even better in 2014.
The Tigers could be special at safety, too. Sophomore Jayron Kearse, a 6'4", 205-pound hitter, sets the tone. He has a long way to go to become a complete safety, and Venables will likely play him closer to the box, at least initially.
Kearse certainly has high expectations for himself.
As Swinney mentioned, Green, also a sophomore, moved to safety after playing receiver last year. He's taken to the position quite well, and his ball skills could be a welcome addition to the secondary.
With 10 more spring practices scheduled, make sure to check back with us here at Bleacher Report for the latest news, notes and analysis on Clemson football.
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