Clemson Football: Upperclassmen Who Must Prove Themselves in 2014

Zach Gilliland@@ZachGilliland93Featured ColumnistJuly 8, 2014

CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 7: D.J. Howard #22 of the Clemson Tigers rushes for a touchdown during the game against the South Carolina State Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)
Tyler Smith/Getty Images

The Clemson Tigers' potential success in 2014 will depend on the play of two groups of players. There's the young guys on both sides of the ball who will need to step up, but there's also the veteran guys who have to prove themselves this fall.

These players are guys who will be taking on much larger roles than in previous years. The amount of success the Tigers have this season will depend on how well the veterans fill those new roles.


Cole Stoudt, Quarterback

We will start off with Stoudt because he is the most important player on this list. The three-year backup to Tajh Boyd, Stoudt will take on a much larger role this fall as the starter.

The senior has proven that he is capable of making plays and running the offense efficiently, but he hasn't felt the pressures that come with being the main guy.

The amount of wins the Tigers have in 2014 really depends on how well he can run the offense. With a defense that will be improved from previous years, he doesn't have to put up Boyd's numbers, but his leadership and efficiency will be important.

Stoudt will face the pressure of replacing Boyd as the starting quarterback this fall.
Stoudt will face the pressure of replacing Boyd as the starting quarterback this fall.Tyler Smith/Getty Images


D.J. Howard, Running Back

Howard is the starter at running back going into the summer, and with his experience, it could likely stay that way, at least until the season opener against Georgia.

Howard, a senior, has played a backup role in his time at Clemson but will be asked to step up this fall. The running game will be important early on, with road games at Georgia and Florida State by Week 3. If Howard is able to get some good carries, it will take pressure off Stoudt.


Charone Peake, Wide Receiver

Being a big-time recruit isn't always easy to live up to, and Peake has faced pressure to break out and become the main guy at receiver.

Last fall, it appeared as if he was ready to have that breakout season, but an injury hindered his progress. With Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant off to the NFL, Clemson will look for that playmaker at wide receiver.

Adam Humphries is a player who will likely line up inside and be counted on during important downs, but either Peake or Mike Williams will become the downfield threat and big-play receiver this year.

Peake was able to escape pressure in his first few seasons with guys like Watkins stealing the spotlight, but in 2014, he will be counted on more than ever to perform well.

Peake is important around the goal line and on deep throws.
Peake is important around the goal line and on deep throws.RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press


Which Offensive Lineman Will Step Up?

The offensive line is a bit of a question mark going into this season with the little amount of experience it has. Isaiah Battle, Shaq Anthony, Joe Gore and Eric Mac Lain all have the potential to step up and be consistent performers, but which guy will it be?

For the Tigers offense to be successful again in 2014, finding consistency on the offensive line will be a major factor.


Which Cornerback Can Provide Depth and Leadership?

Mackensie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley appear to be the best cornerbacks on Clemson's roster, but two veteran defensive backs will be asked to step up as well.

Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins, both seniors, won't necessarily be asked to perform in a larger role if Alexander and Tankersley start, but both are important because of their experience and leadership in a secondary that is very young.

The experience of Peters will be very important for a young secondary in 2014.
The experience of Peters will be very important for a young secondary in 2014.RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press/Associated Press


Ammon Lakip, Kicker

Anyone could make the argument that Lakip is the most important guy on this list and you wouldn't look at them crazy. Why? Because he's replacing Chandler Catanzaro.

Catanzaro, first in points in school history, was almost automatic in his career. He was 13-of-14 on field goals in 2013 and went 67-of-82 on field goals in his career.

Bradley Pinion is a more-than-capable place kicker as well, but there will be a fair amount of pressure on Lakip to perform well this season. Clemson fans have grown accustomed to solid field-goal kicking the last four years and don't want to see the kicking game hold this team back.


Tony Steward, Linebacker

For a senior who hasn't been a starter, there will be pressure on Steward to prove himself in 2014. The former 5-star recruit will likely be the starter at weak-side linebacker in a defense that is expected to be really good this year.

The play of the linebackers will be very important in contests early on against Georgia and Florida State because of those two programs' running games. Last year, we were able to see Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony shut down the running game at times, and Tiger fans will expect Steward to do the same in 2014.


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