Clemson Football: Recapping the Biggest 2014 Offseason News so Far

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

Clemson Football: Recapping the Biggest 2014 Offseason News so Far

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    Sammy Watkins, Dabo Swinney and Tajh Boyd celebrating Clemson's triumph over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl
    Sammy Watkins, Dabo Swinney and Tajh Boyd celebrating Clemson's triumph over Ohio State in the Orange BowlWilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Clemson Tigers are coming off one of the most successful periods in school history. For just the second time since the school began play in 1896, the Tigers have reeled off three straight 10-win seasons. 

    So naturally, much of the talk around Death Valley relates to Clemson's recent success.

    However, this offseason has been more about what Clemson must replace to repeat that type of success versus enjoying what the program has built.

    Tajh Boyd, arguably the greatest quarterback in school history, is gone. So is Sammy Watkins, one of the best offensive players in the history of the ACC.

    Senior Cole Stoudt gets the first crack at replacing Boyd. Can he hold off true freshman Deshaun Watson?

    Here is a look at four of the top news items of the 2014 offseason for the Clemson Tigers. 

Cole Stoudt Named Starting Quarterback

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    Senior starting quarterback Cole Stoudt
    Senior starting quarterback Cole StoudtTyler Smith/Getty Images

    Not long after the spring game, head coach Dabo Swinney announced Stoudt would be the team's starting quarterback for the season opener at Georgia.

    Quickly, many fans wondered: Did Stoudt win the job or did Chad Kelly's issues and Watson's injury open the door for him?

    The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, although Stoudt was the team's best quarterback throughout the spring. Before spring practice, all three quarterbacks were essentially even. Stoudt was the most consistent of the bunch and his knowledge of the offense made him the ideal candidate, with several young skill players expected to contribute heavily in 2014.

    Stoudt has attempted just 119 career passes, but he has completed over 70 percent of them with eight touchdowns and only one interception. It's imperative for Stoudt to have a strong summer, or coaches may be forced to reassess Watson's readiness as a true freshman. 

Chad Kelly's Dismissal

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    Former Tiger quarterback Chad Kelly
    Former Tiger quarterback Chad KellyRICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    Kelly entered the spring with a good chance of winning the quarterback competition. However, inconsistent practices followed by a meltdown in the spring game led Swinney to kick Kelly off the team. 

    Kelly's dismissal shocked many Clemson fans. A former top recruit, Kelly is the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and a talented dual-threat quarterback who fit perfectly into offensive coordinator Chad Morris' system. 

    But as anyone that follows Clemson knows, the spring incident wasn't the first time Kelly ruffled the feathers of those inside the program. Before he ever set foot on campus, Kelly essentially guaranteed he would unseat Stoudt as the backup and tweeted this, per Graham Watson of Yahoo Sports: "Your on the bench for a reason. And i come soon!"

    He didn't unseat Stoudt and now finds himself looking to rebuild his reputation at East Mississippi Community College this fall. 

Depth at Skill Positions

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    Junior receiver Charone Peake
    Junior receiver Charone PeakeRICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    The Tigers lost Roderick McDowell at running back and Watkins and Martavis Bryant at receiver. Each of the three, especially Watkins, will be tough to replace, but the Tigers are actually in pretty good shape. 

    At running back, Clemson has D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson returning. They will be joined by freshman Wayne Gallman. Gallman has the potential to be a star and the type of game-breaking player that Morris loves. Expect all four to be involved in the offense, especially early in the season.

    Adam Humphries is the leading returning receiver. He caught 41 passes last season and will likely lead the team in targets in 2014. He has a good rapport with Stoudt and is a reliable route-runner with great hands and underrated speed. 

    Junior Charone Peake and sophomore Germone Hopper each missed a significant portion of spring drills for different reasons. Peake is still recovering from a torn ACL, while Hopper was sent home to focus on academics. Both will be counted upon heavily this fall if they return to the field healthy or, in Hopper's case, focused.

    Sophomore Mike Williams is expected to start at one of the spots opposite Humphries. At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Williams has outstanding size to match his excellent speed. He has the potential to be a star.

    Peake and Hopper's absences opened the door for the three true freshmen this spring: Demarre Kitt, Artavis Scott and Kyrin Priester. Don't be surprised if at least one of the three see the field this fall.  

     

The Rise of Mackensie Alexander

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    Freshman sensation Mackensie Alexander
    Freshman sensation Mackensie Alexander247Sports

    Clemson is replacing both starting cornerbacks in 2014. For most schools, that would cause panic. Not for the Tigers, though, as they could be even better this fall, thanks in large part to redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander. 

    Senior safety Robert Smith is the only experienced starter returning in the defensive backfield. However, the overall talent level has arguably improved with Alexander, sophomore Cordrea Tankersley and freshman Adrian Baker at cornerback. Sophomore safety Jayron Kearse could be a star, too. 

    All spring long, coaches continuously lavished praise on Alexander and his ability to make plays. After one spring practice, Swinney had a lot to say about Alexander, per David Hood of TigerNet.com:

    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 his mistakes. He's just very engaged in the process. He's focused on being a great player. He's hungry and he 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.

    That's high praise from the head coach, and it's hard to imagine Alexander not being a star. No one has ever questioned his physical ability, but the biggest trait Alexander possesses may be his ability to shake off negative plays. That will suit him well as a freshman starter.