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Clemson Football: 4 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expanded in 2014

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2014

Clemson Football: 4 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expanded in 2014

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    Former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and senior Cole Stoudt
    Former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and senior Cole StoudtDavid Goldman/Associated Press

    The 2014 NFL draft is less than two months away. The Clemson Tigers figure to be well-represented. Former stars Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd, Martavis Bryant, Brandon Thomas and Bashaud Breeland are among several Tigers who expect to be selected. 

    With such massive departures, opportunities are abound. 

    That is the case in 2014. Clemson is forced to replace several starters on the offensive side of the ball. 

    Head coach Dabo Swinney has his work cut out for him, but the cupboard certainly isn't bare for the Tigers. Clemson has four straight top-20 recruiting classes, per 247Sports (subscription required), and ranked in the top 15 in three of those years. 

    Here are four players that are expected to see their roles increase significantly in 2014. 

    All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports

Quarterback Cole Stoudt

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    Cole Stoudt
    Cole StoudtTyler Smith/Getty Images

    No one knows for sure who will start at quarterback for Clemson in 2014. However, according to Swinney, senior Cole Stoudt is the leader in the clubhouse.

    "Somebody has to go out there first," the Tigers coach told reporters, per Pete Iacobelli of the Associated Press.

    Stoudt has some experience. As Boyd's primary backup over the last three years, he has attempted a total of 119 passes.

    That isn't a large sample size over three seasons, but Stoudt did complete 72 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and only one interception.

    His primary competition is a sophomore and a true freshman with a combined 17 career attempts. There is a strong chance Stoudt will become Clemson's starting quarterback next season.

    Spring practice isn't going to convince coaches that Stoudt is not the answer. His experience should allow him the opportunity to start next season—at least early on.

Wide Receiver Germone Hopper

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    Germone Hopper
    Germone HopperGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Gone are Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. In 2013, the pair combined for 143 receptions, 2,292 yards and 19 touchdowns. 

    Replacing those two, especially Watkins, is virtually impossible. However, the Tigers certainly have talented and capable receivers ready to step up.

    Germone Hopper is ready to be the next great Clemson receiver.

    As a freshman in 2013, Hopper caught 23 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

    He didn't play a lot, but when he did, offensive coordinator Chad Morris used Hopper more on shorter routes rather than asking him to run the entire route tree.

    There are several young receivers that will need to contribute next season. Senior Adam Humphries will likely lead the Tigers in receptions, but he's not a big-play guy. Hopper is. 

    After a slow start to spring practice, Hopper had his best day on Clemson's last practice before spring break, Swinney told David Hood of TigerNet.com.

    "G-Hop had his best day today, which is good because he has been very average. He was electric out there today."

    Hopper needs to be consistent. The rest of spring practice will be important for him to take a major step forward. Regardless of whether he starts the season opener or not, Hopper's ability to create big plays will be important for a team replacing so much talent on offense.

Offensive Tackle Isaiah Battle

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    Head coach Dabo Swinney and projected starting left tackle Isaiah Battle
    Head coach Dabo Swinney and projected starting left tackle Isaiah BattleGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Brandon Thomas left big shoes to fill as the anchor of Clemson's offensive line. Junior Isaiah Battle appears ready to fill those shoes, though.

    At 6'7", 280 pounds, Battle certainly looks the part. Not only does he possess outstanding size with the frame to add more weight, he also has the athleticism of a tight end and deft footwork. 

    Battle also has experience. After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2012, he started four games in 2013. Most importantly, Battle played every offensive snap in Clemson's final two games against South Carolina and Ohio State and performed well. 

    Battle will need to keep his cool, though. Last season, he was suspended one game for punching a North Carolina State defensive back.

Cornerback MacKensie Alexander

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    MacKensie Alexander
    MacKensie AlexanderUSA TODAY Sports

    Yes, MacKensie Alexander is a redshirt freshman, meaning any contribution he makes in 2014 will be more significant than he made in 2013.

    The former 5-star prospect was expected to contribute immediately last season. However, an injury in fall practice forced coaches to play it safe with Alexander rather than burn a year of his eligibility and have him miss significant time. 

    Whether Bashaud Breeland returned or not in 2014, Alexander was expected to play a primary role in Clemson's secondary. With Breeland's early departure to the NFL, don't be surprised if Alexander is the Tigers' top cornerback in the season opener at Georgia. 

    Alexander has certainly caught Swinney's eye thus far in spring practice. Per Hood

    A lot of guys have talent. It's the competitive fire. It's the will to get better. His willingness to study His willingness to learn from mistakes. He's just very engaged in the process. He's focused on being a great player. He's hungry and competes every snap. When you have a player that has that drive, most of the time they are going to be pretty good. He doesn't say a thing, but he competes every snap and his demeanor never changes. That is very encouraging, and I love where he is right now. He will get beat and make a mistake and he doesn't flinch. He just reloads. 

    Remember how good Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson were as freshmen for Virginia Tech last season? Alexander could make that type of impact in 2014.

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