Deshaun Watson's Supporting Cast Looks Deeper and More Dangerous for 2016

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystApril 9, 2016

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Clemson QB Deshaun WatsonJoshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

CLEMSON, S.C. — Deshaun Watson got his first Clemson milestone of the 2016 season out of the way early Saturday.

When Watson stepped out onto the Memorial Stadium field for the second offensive series of Clemson's 2016 spring game, he officially became the first Tiger quarterback since Charlie Whitehurst in 2004 to play for both the Orange and the White teams.

The decision, which Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced, served a crucial purpose.

"There would've been a revolt if I hadn't have done that," Swinney joked.

In addition to ensuring his safety, Swinney's decision gave Watson an opportunity to play with the entirety of his supporting cast—one that is heavy on both depth and talent heading into 2016.

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Clemson QB Deshaun WatsonJoshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

"It was good for him—it was the first spring game he's played in—to get out in front of the crowd a little bit and go for both teams," Swinney said. "Unfortunately, he had more success for one team than the other when he was in there."

The victorious Orange team version of Watson went 5-of-6 passing for 140 yards, while the White team version went 2-of-5 through the air for just one yard. 

The Jekyll-and-Hyde box score and 17-9 final score wasn't a complete reflection of the story of Saturday's game, which included a running-clock second half that featured plenty of reserves.

The fast offensive start with Watson at the helm, however, had the Memorial Stadium crowd buzzing.

"I'd be really disappointed if we're not one of the best offenses in the country," Swinney said. "That's our expectation, and it should be, with the people we have."

David Hood @MDavidHood

I'll you something we all already knew....Deshaun is really, really good. And this offense is ridiculous. Good luck defenses

In his four series of action, Watson looked a lot like the Heisman finalist who became the first member of college football's 4,000/1,000-yard club last season, per B/R Insights. Two of Clemson's three touchdowns came from his precise arm.

"It was good, even though it was short," Watson said. "It's good to just go out there and just compete with a whole bunch of different guys and see who was ready and who wasn't."

Watson didn't waste any time spreading the ball around to his receivers for explosive gains. The second play of the game was a 47-yard connection between Watson and national championship game breakout star Hunter Renfrow.

Clemson Football @ClemsonFB

Watson + Renfrow = Big Play #SpringClemson https://t.co/pObTybgsr7

Renfrow caught two more passes from Watson on that drive, and he finished with a six-yard touchdown reception on a slick rollout. The sophomore looks like he will have an even bigger role in the Watson-led offense in 2016 after picking up where he left off in the title game.

"That was a reflection of what we've been doing all spring," Renfrow said. "We're just trying to keep that competitive depth. That's what we did last year. We had six or seven [receivers] that we could roll in there."

Clemson WR Artavis Scott
Clemson WR Artavis ScottJoshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson showed Saturday it could go even deeper out wide for Watson in 2016. The Tigers had eight receivers catch multiple passes, with Renfrow, Artavis Scott, Trevion Thompson (who led all receivers with six catches for 87 yards), Seth Ryan and Ray-Ray McCloud all recording explosive plays of 15 or more yards.

And that production came without two probable starting wideouts.

Last year's No. 3 wide receiver Deon Cain and Mike Williams—the Tigers' top receiver in 2014, who missed almost all of 2015 with a neck injury—were held out of the game, but the passing attack didn't miss a beat.

Dan Hope @Dan_Hope

#Clemson receiver Mike Williams (7) not playing today but participating in warmups. Deon Cain (8) in street clothes. https://t.co/ObmTtH8wrm

"We have the potential to be even better this year," Watson said. "But we can't just talk about it. We have to prove it and put in the work."

Renfrow's quick start with Watson was an especially welcome sight to Swinney, who also raved about Ryan—a junior who had only one catch last year but stood out in spring ball. 

"I was telling [Renfrow] in the pregame that the legend of Renfrow is diminishing because of Seth Ryan," Swinney said with a smile. "Seth made a couple of big plays today, and he's made two or three of those every day in practice. Whether he's going against the first team or the second team, it doesn't matter."

Like Ryan's performance, McCloud's 61-yard touchdown late in the first quarter from Watson was another display of Clemson's greater offensive depth, which Watson got to take full advantage of while playing for both teams. The sophomore receiver only had 251 yards last year after missing three games because of an MCL sprain.

Clemson Football @ClemsonFB

Ray-Ray! Reminder — you can watch our Spring Game on ESPN3 here: https://t.co/o779TOrBl2 https://t.co/vwGtugGAFm

But on Saturday, a healthy McCloud got more snaps out wide, joining seven other Tigers who made catches in the first half alone. Watson got to build more chemistry with the receivers as a whole, as well as a running back group that went four-deep before halftime.

"It was important for him to get a feel for everybody and see who was ready," McCloud said. "All our quarterbacks threw great, too. With [the backups] following him, they have a good role model in front of them. And I look up to him, too. He pushes me as well."

After his fourth series, Watson was moved to a pseudo quarterbacks coach role, standing behind the offense with Swinney and offering advice to his backups. 

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and HC Dabo Swinney
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and HC Dabo SwinneyJoshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The game transitioned to a more ground-based one in the second half, with backup running backs Adam Choice (17 carries for 88 yards) and C.J. Fuller (16 carries for 58 yards) providing solid burst out of the backfield with starter Wayne Gallman (eight carries for 58 yards).

Add the deeper group of explosive backs and receivers to a solid offensive line that kept Watson's pocket clean against a strong defensive line, and one can see why the offensive hype continues to grow for Clemson.

The Tigers, who averaged 514.5 yards per game and 38.5 points en route to an ACC title and a national championship game appearance, will challenge for the title of best attack in college football this fall.

They return nine starters with Williams back in the fold, and their schedule is ripe for big numbers in 2016.

"What I think about a lot is, 'Man, we've got a lot of personnel,'" Swinney said. "This ought to be fun."

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.


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