Clemson Football: Key Storylines and Observations of Tigers' Fall Camp Thus Far
That's how long the Clemson Tigers have until they return to the Georgia Dome once again to face the Auburn Tigers in a city that has not been a kind place for the Tigers to play the last few seasons.
And that makes performance in fall camp all the more important.
With the Tigers in the thick of fall camp now, what has there been to see with a new defensive coordinator trying to rebuild a Tiger defense; a brilliant second-year offensive coordinator who's offense gets back its top receiver, quarterback and running back; and questions along both offensive and defensive lines?
Let's take a look at some fall camp observations and storylines.
The Offensive Line
The latest headline has been the knee injury to sophomore tackle Gifford Timothy, who was slated to start at right tackle. With Clemson's already young and inexperienced offensive line the biggest concern for an offense that boasts one of the best running backs in the country in Andre Ellington and one of the best receiving corps featuring Deandre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, it's a pressing concern for the Tigers.
The team has to hope that his injury is not serious enough to sideline him through the first few games.
With Timothy sidelined, as a result the Tigers have replaced him with redshirt freshman Joe Gore, who switched over from the defensive line during his redshirt season. He has had his ups and downs during both spring and the fall. He is still gradually learning the nuances of his position. Center Dalton Freeman has also been taking snaps at right tackle, with Ryan Norton acting as the starting center.
Should Timothy be sidelined for an extended period, Freeman and Gore will have to handle the responsibilities at right tackle.
Defensive Line Coming into Place
The defensive line rotation looks as though it may be starting to take shape.
The coaching staff has, with the thinner numbers at defensive end, moved Tavaris Barnes back to defensive end, which should produce better depth and results. He should be a part of the rotation with Roderick Byers and Vic Beasley, and possibly freshmen Shaq Lawson and Martin Aiken should they avoid redshirts.
At defensive tackle, Deshawn Williams and Grady Jarrett have gotten very positive reviews in camp, with the coaches saying they wish they had more like these two. Both should be the main starters against Auburn. Depth remains the main storyline hear, where Josh Watson will be next tackle in the rotation.
Freshmen Carols Watkins and D.J. Reader are likely to become a bigger part of the rotation and avoid redshirts with the move of Barnes back to defensive end. Kevin Dodd and Tra Thomas are also competing for time on the field.
With a new defensive coordinator and a returning offensive coordinator, who in one year turned the Tigers offense around completely, we'd think the offense would make the strides, but the defense is right along with them.
Despite the need for depth along the defensive line, there is depth in the secondary and at linebacker. In the secondary, the main corners that have been set include Bashaud Breeland, Darius Robinson, Martin Jenkins and Travis Blanks, who is competing with linebacker Quandon Christian for the hybrid CB/LB nickel position in defensive coordinator Brent Venables' scheme.
The coaches have noted that they want Martin Jenkins, who really came on late last season, to see the field more, and he could push both Breeland and Robinson for a spot.
At linebacker, Stephone Anthony is the only entrenched starter at the Mike position, with Corico Wright and Jonathan Willard battling at the Will position, while Quandon Christian and Travis Blanks battle for the hybrid linebacker/nickelback position.
Linebacker Lateek Townsend has made noise for his pass-rush ability, and he could see the field in passing situations. Tony Steward is at third on the depth chart, and the Tigers can't simply leave a player of his potential and talents on the bench.
Defense Catching On
New defensive coordinator Brent Venables' new scheme has been reported to be simple enough to the point where players could play without having to think too much.
And so far, it seems to be paying off in camp, as the defense has been able to match the intensity of the offense, and the scheme has drawn positive reviews from both coaches and players.
In the Tigers' first scrimmage on Saturday, the defense was the main highlight. Venables seems to have brought the kind of energy and intensity this defense was missing last season. And they will be in need of it, least they repeat their four losses in which all were blowout games.
Under-the-Radar Quarterback Battle
With Tajh Boyd a clear-cut starter in year two of the Chad Morris OC era, a good backup is always important should the starter go down. Last year, Cole Stoudt beat out Tony McNeal for the No. 2 spot.
This year, there's redshirt freshman Morgan Roberts to worry about, along with highly touted Chad Kelly, who could avoid a redshirt if he has a solid enough camp to beat out Stoudt as the No. 2 quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Roberts surprised the coaches with a strong spring, and with the status of Stoudt's knee hovering in the air, it leaves an opening for both of the freshmen quarterbacks to make their case.
Kelly, while still adjusting to the college game, is making plays and showing why he was a highly sought-after quarterback last season. Chad Morris would prefer to redshirt him, but should he impress enough in camp, he could become the main guy behind Boyd and even play in certain packages designed for his dual-threat ability.