After the Clemson Tigers finished off the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl, the biggest concern for head coach Dabo Swinney heading into the offseason was who his starting quarterback would be for the 2014 season.
Three-year starter Tajh Boyd was gone, and the race to replace him was on. Rising senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and true freshman Deshaun Watson were supposed to be competing to replace Boyd all throughout fall camp.
Shortly after the spring game, Swinney named Stoudt the starting quarterback, dismissed Kelly from the team and Watson missed part of the spring due to a shoulder injury. So what was expected to be Clemson's top position battle throughout the offseason was already settled.
Other positions remain unsettled, though. Remember, Clemson lost both Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant at wide receiver. The Tigers return a lot of talent at the position, but Watkins and Bryant's production from 2013 will be difficult to replace.
No. 1 Wide Receiver
Clemson's leading returning receiver this fall is senior Adam Humphries. Humphries was third on the team last season with 41 receptions. However, he's suited best for the slot. He isn't the type of player defenses will game-plan around. He is a steady and reliable receiver who should get lots of targets from Stoudt.
Sophomore Mike Williams has everything you look for in an elite receiver. He's big (6'3", 205), fast, strong and has good ball skills. As a freshman in 2013, Williams battled drops, though. If he can improve his concentration and run better routes, he could be Clemson's next star receiver.
Humphries and Williams are expected to start at two of the three starting wide receiver positions, per the team's updated depth chart.
The player to keep an eye on is junior Charone Peake. Peake, who missed most of 2013 with a torn ACL, was a member of the prized 2011 recruiting class that also featured Watkins and Bryant. He's ready for his chance to shine now.
Peake showed signs of breaking out as a sophomore when he caught 25 passes, good for fifth on the team in 2012. He's actually listed as Clemson's third starter, but he will compete with sophomore Germone Hopper and a trio of true freshmen receivers. Hopper is another exciting player; however, he doesn't possess Hopper's size (6'2", 205).
The biggest question surrounding Peake is health. Is he fully recovered from last season's knee injury? He believes so, per David Hood of TigerNet.com:
During last summer and fall camp I improved so much. I feel like it's still in me, too. It shouldn't be a problem with the redshirt and two years (of eligibility) left. That'll be on me. I think I'll build my confidence, get my cuts right and plant more off my left knee during the summer before camp gets here. I'm already moving a lot and can sprint. I'm already working on some side-to-side stuff, too. I'm going to be 100-percent by the time the summer hits. When we start drills with the team, I'll be ready.
Peake is certainly optimistic, and that is good news for Clemson fans. He can be a special player.
There is no clear-cut starter at running back for Clemson. The Tigers have a pair of upperclassmen, senior D.J. Howard and junior Zac Brooks, currently atop the depth chart.
But how long will it stay that way?
Neither player will remind anyone of former backs C.J. Spiller, Andre Ellington or even James Davis. Howard has 581 career rushing yards, while Brooks has just 365. Howard is a physical runner that will work best in a platoon.
The player to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman.
Gallman had a strong spring and has the game-breaking speed that neither Brooks nor Howard possess. While Gallman is fast, he isn't an outside runner. He has shown the ability to run between the tackles and get the tough yards. He could be an asset in the passing game, too. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris likes getting his running backs involved.
The biggest question facing Gallman is if can he play on third downs. Yes, he would be an ideal third-down back due to his speed, but can he thrive in pass protection in his first year of college football?
That is likely what coaches will be wanting to see from Gallman during fall camp.
Two other players, junior C.J. Davidson and freshman Tyshon Dye, will also figure into the mix. Dye ruptured his Achilles in February, so his availability for this season is still in question. He missed his freshman season due to injuries.
Davidson is another intriguing player. A former track star, Davidson does have the speed to compete for playing time and will have a chance to show coaches he deserves to be on the field.
Clemson lost very good starters from its offensive line last year. Left tackle Brandon Thomas and guard Tyler Shatley are gone. However, the Tigers have some experienced players ready to step in.
Isaiah Battle will replace Thomas on the left side, but who will start at the tackle position opposite of him?
Juniors Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are currently battling it out, and by all appearances that competition will continue into fall camp.
Who has the advantage?
Anthony has more experience, having started three games in 2013 and having played in 17 games throughout his career. Gore has never started a game but has played in 12 games.
Both players are athletic, though Anthony is better in pass protection. Gore is bigger (6'5", 300) and also a better run-blocker. In Morris' offense, the offensive linemen must have good lateral quickness, and both Anthony and Gore have that.
Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell recently spoke to the media about both players, per Mandrallius Robinson of The Greenville News.
Joe's biggest nemesis has been his hands, learning to use his hands. Athletically, physically, he has everything. He's got to do a good job studying and learning. So much happens on the edge, you've got to communicate.
And Caldwell had this to say about Anthony:
He came from a throwing system, which is great. Everybody does that. Run-blocking has been his nemesis. He's really improved that. He had a great spring. It's coming. He's added weight. He's gotten stronger. He's got to commit himself to doing that and learning to play with his pads down.
Many talented young offensive tackles struggle with pad level. It's no surprise that Anthony struggled in that area. However, he has improved and his suspension for the season opener could be the only thing keeping him from being named the starter now. He has opened the door for Gore, and he has taken advantage of it.
But if Anthony reports to fall camp in shape, he will be tough to beat.