Biggest Storylines Heading into Clemson's Fall Camp
The Clemson Tigers are just days away from the unofficial beginning of the 2014 college football season. Fall camp opens, and the countdown is on for the Tigers' trip to Georgia on August 30 to open the new season.
Much of the offseason talk has centered on Clemson's quarterback situation—and rightfully so. It's the most important position on the field, and the Tigers just graduated the top passer in the school's rich history.
But even with the loss of Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, there is a palpable buzz around the program. The Tigers are coming off three consecutive 10-win seasons and are in position to challenge defending national champion Florida State for ACC supremacy despite the loss of some key personnel.
Can senior Cole Stoudt replace Boyd? Or will Clemson rely on one of the most experienced and talented defensive lines in the country to carry the team in 2014?
Here are four storylines Clemson fans should keep an eye on as fall practice begins.
Cole Stoudt won the starting quarterback job this spring. But freshman Deshaun Watson is lurking directly behind him.
Head coach Dabo Swinney recently said Watson would play when he was ready, just not as the starter. However, Swinney also had effusive praise for the true freshman, especially in terms of his development, per David Hood of TigerNet.com:
Deshaun has the qualities to be a special football player. He will be great if he stays healthy—he'll be a great player in this league for several years. Just like how I knew Tajh Boyd was going to be a great player. We had Kyle Parker and when Kyle Parker was the starter we had to bring Tajh along, and when he was ready—he was ready.
That statement alone speaks volumes about how excited the offensive coaches are regarding Watson. He is the perfect fit for offensive coordinator Chad Morris' offense. He's fast, possesses terrific arm strength and enrolled in January to get a head start on his college career. If the coaches felt Watson wasn't ready, he wouldn't have been in the mix to start this spring.
Stoudt, of course, could make this a moot point. In limited time over the last three seasons, Stoudt has been extremely accurate and shown a propensity to take care of the football. If he continues to play like that, he will—or should—remain the starter.
But if Stoudt struggles against Georgia, all bets are off.
Who Will Be Clemson's Top Pass-Catcher?
Who will replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant?
It won't be two players. More than likely, it will be a host of talented young receivers—and tight ends.
Senior Adam Humphries returns and will start in the slot. Humphries is a dependable receiver with good hands, and he runs excellent routes. His speed is underrated, too.
Sophomore Mike Williams is also back. Williams has the size and speed that coaches covet in today's game. His biggest question mark is concentration. His lack of concentration sometimes leads to drops and sloppy routes. If he cleans that up, he could be the Tigers' next star wideout.
Junior Charone Peake and sophomore Germone Hopper return as well. Peake tore his ACL last season, while Hopper missed most of the spring to focus on academics. Peake, like Williams, possesses good size and was a member of the touted 2011 recruiting class—with Watkins and Bryant. If he can stay healthy, he will be solid.
Hopper reminds some folks of former Tiger Jacoby Ford. He can make an impact in the slot or on the outside, in addition to bringing excitement to the return game.
The Tigers return last season's top three tight ends. The one to watch out for is sophomore Jordan Leggett. Leggett had an outstanding spring and is poised for a breakout year.
It's often said the game of football is won in the trenches. If that holds true, Clemson should be in good shape this fall.
The Tigers return everyone from last season's two-deep depth chart at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Essentially, Clemson's top nine defensive linemen all return in 2014.
Vic Beasley will get most of the press. An All-American last season, Beasley had 23 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2013. Beasley will likely get double-teamed more this fall, which should open things up for Tavaris Barnes and Corey Crawford. Barnes flashed his potential in the spring game, where he finished with five sacks.
The Tigers return Stephone Anthony at middle linebacker. Anthony has the type of ability to be an All-American but hasn't quite reached that level yet. He is strong in all areas and should be even better this season playing behind such an outstanding defensive line.
Senior Tony Steward will start at one of the outside linebacker positions. Steward came to Clemson with much acclaim but has been unable to stay healthy. Keep an eye on freshman Dorian O'Daniel if Steward goes down.
Can the Young Secondary Hold Up?
The Tigers have struggled in the secondary in recent seasons. One would expect those struggles to continue in 2014 with a pair of first-time starters at cornerback.
But don't tell that to defensive backs coach Mike Reed.
Reed is excited about his young secondary, in particular freshman Mackensie Alexander, per Hood:
Mackensie is Mackensie. He came in and had the injury, but he loves the game and it was very hard for him at first. Mackensie always has something to prove, and that is his M.O. That is nothing new to me. Last season allowed him to see the game in a different light, sitting on the sidelines and watching everybody else participate while he nursed an injury. It was a frustrating time, something that a kid is passionate about and it's something that he loves to do. But it was a learning experience, and it's one of those things where every day is not promised to you. He handled it well, even though there were some frustrating times.
Don't be surprised if Alexander becomes a star as soon as this season. Coaches will allow him to play a lot of man coverage as he gains experience, and he will make plays.
Another player to watch is sophomore safety Jayron Kearse. Kearse got to play last season when Travis Blanks went down, and he made the most of his opportunity. With Kearse's size and propensity to deliver big hits, Clemson could have the makings of an outstanding secondary.
Keep an eye on sophomore Cordrea Tankersley and freshman Adrian Baker this fall, too. Tankersley is slated to start, but if he struggles, Baker will force his way onto the field.