Clemson Football: Projecting Who Will Win Tigers' Open Starting Positions

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2014

Clemson Football: Projecting Who Will Win Tigers' Open Starting Positions

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    Junior receiver Charone Peake
    Junior receiver Charone PeakeRichard Shiro/Associated Press

    The Clemson Tigers released their first depth chart of the offseason just two weeks ago. The updated depth chart features 13 players atop the two-deep who were either starters or co-starters from last season's Orange Bowl-winning team.

    Clemson's biggest test will be who replaces record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd and All-American receiver Sammy Watkins.

    At quarterback, senior Cole Stoudt takes the reins. Stoudt's position atop the depth chart is not in question, as head coach Dabo Swinney has emphatically stated the senior will be the starting quarterback in 2014. 

    While quarterback and left tackle—where Isaiah Battle has the position locked up—are settled, competition remains strong at several positions. 

    Who will replace Watkins? Or who will replace Bashaud Breeland at cornerback?

    Here is a look at five positions that remain hotly contested even with the updated depth chart.

Running Back

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    Senior running back D.J. Howard
    Senior running back D.J. HowardRAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

    Roderick McDowell is gone, but the Tigers should be even better at running back in 2014.

    Senior D.J. Howard, juniors Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson and freshman Wayne Gallman lead a deep, versatile backfield for Clemson in 2014. 

    Howard has the most experience with 133 career carries through three years. He is more of a downhill power runner. He is currently atop the team's depth chart at running back, but that is merely because of his experience.

    Brooks will be in the mix, too. The player to watch is Gallman. Arguably the fastest of the bunch, Gallman also runs surprisingly well between the tackles. If he gets carries early in the season, he may take the job and not look back. 

    Expect Howard to start the season opener, but this will remain a wide-open competition.

Wide Receiver

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    Mike Williams
    Mike WilliamsRAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

    The Tigers start three wide receivers and lost two very good ones to the NFL in Watkins and Martavis Bryant.

    Fortunately for Clemson, reliable senior Adam Humphries returns. Humphries caught 41 passes in 2013 and is best suited in the slot. He will give Stoudt a reliable weapon and should lead the team in targets.

    Outside of Humphries, the race to replace Watkins and Bryant is wide open. Sophomores Mike Williams and Germone Hopper will combine with junior Charone Peake to give the Tigers a formidable group of receivers.

    Williams is big and fast. He has the potential to be a star but must focus on his concentration and route running. 

    Peake is coming off a torn ACL but possesses a good combination of size and speed. Peake is also a smooth route-runner. 

    Hopper was sent home from spring practice to focus on his academics. He is fast, and if he stays on the field, he could remind some Clemson fans of Jacoby Ford. The Tigers need Hopper on the field this fall. He brings a different set of skills to the position. 

    Three true freshmen will also push for time this fall. Kyrin Priester, Artavis Scott and Demarre Kitt all look to make an impact this summer.

Offensive Line

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    Junior center Ryan Norton (right) celebrating with Sammy Watkins after a big play in the Orange Bowl
    Junior center Ryan Norton (right) celebrating with Sammy Watkins after a big play in the Orange BowlStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Battle at left tackle and Ryan Norton at center are the most secure positions along the offensive line heading into the 2014 season.

    The Tigers have solid players at right tackle and both guard positions, but who will step up and win each job?

    Juniors Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony will compete at right tackle. Anthony has ideal athleticism but has yet to reach his full potential. Eric Mac Lain could win the job, too. Mac Lain missed most of the spring with a toe injury and will also compete for a spot at guard. He's the team's most versatile offensive lineman.

    At guard, David Beasley returns. Beasley is currently atop the depth chart at left guard, and look for him to remain there. He is an experienced player and terrific in the running game. Mac Lain will likely back Beasley up. 

    Kalon Davis is the leader to start at right guard. At 6'5", 340 pounds, Davis is huge but sometimes gets too high in his stance and struggles in pass protection. 

    Look for Battle, Beasley, Norton, Davis and Anthony to be the team's starters from left to right when the Tigers open up at Georgia.

Outside Linebacker

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    Travis Blanks
    Travis BlanksChuck Burton/Associated Press

    The Tigers lost both starters at outside linebacker from 2013. Senior Tony Steward will capably fill one spot, but who will play on the other side of middle linebacker Stephone Anthony?

    According to the new depth chart, there are four players in contention: sophomore T.J. Burrell, junior Travis Blanks, sophomore Korrin Wiggins and freshman Dorian O'Daniel. 

    Wiggins and Blanks are both defensive backs. However, the second outside linebacker position in Clemson's defense has a lot of coverage responsibilities. 

    Burrell is an intriguing option. He has solid size (5'11", 215 lbs) for the position, runs well and is a sure tackler.

    But the player to keep an eye on is O'Daniel. 

    The redshirt freshman was a big-time recruit last season and could make a major impact in 2014 if used correctly. O'Daniel runs like a defensive back, is a hard hitter and can also rush the passer. Expect defensive coordinator Brent Venables to employ O'Daniel in a number of ways this fall.

Cornerback

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    Redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander
    Redshirt freshman Mackensie AlexanderCredit: 247Sports

    The Tigers lost both starters at cornerback from 2013, but much like running back, they could be even better in 2014 thanks to a mix of outstanding young talent and reliable veterans. 

    Seniors Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins return. However, don't look for either to start against Georgia in the season opener. 

    Freshman Mackensie Alexander, one of the top recruits in 2013, had an outstanding spring and is in line to start at one cornerback spot. Alexander has everything you look for in a corner. He has good size (5'11", 185 lbs), speed and instincts. He is consistently around the football and a willing tackler. Alexander is a future star, and that begins in 2014.

    Sophomore Cordrea Tankersley sits atop the depth chart opposite of Alexander. Tankersley didn't play a lot on defense in 2013. He did, however, make an impact on special teams, leading the team in special teams tackles. 

    Clemson is in good shape at cornerback. Alexander and Tankersley are at the top of the current depth chart, and don't look for that to change. But the experienced seniors will continue to push the young and talented underclassmen.