It seems that during the summer everyone has a happy list about how great the team will be and the players to watch. Since I am a natural pessimist and like to take different angles on things--I want to know what could potentially go wrong. Not that I want to have a bad season but I want to think through the potential pitfalls (because you are always going to have some) and bumps in the road that can emerge.
Forgive my deviation from strictly writing about recruiting but I wanted to throw this up before we really hit fall camp. Here is my list of top five specific things that would potentially derail the season. Please tell me what you would add/change in the comments.
1. Injury to Tajh Boyd
This is the most obvious and the most scary to me. My heart skips a beat any time I see Boyd come up after a hit and hold his arm or shoulder. The man is durable and it showed against BC two years ago and last year against LSU. No one can really contest that. We have been kind of spoiled by his durability. The wrong fall and you have a rotator cuff/shoulder injury ala Sam Bradford. Boyd takes shots in the pocket but also was one of our main running threats. I don't see him carrying the ball any less this year with our RB depth and teams will look to try and knock him out of games even more this year.
Bottom-line with Chad Kelly most likely gone for the entire season (despite the magical rapid recovery reports--heard the same thing about Ricky Sapp and others--take the redshirt Chad), which bums me out because I thought he could have added an interesting running package to the offense, we have no depth. Cole Stoudt is serviceable and can cover in a pinch but you can't consider the Tigers national title contenders with Cole controlling the reigns. You still have Chad Morris to try and re-invent the offense but you lose leadership, experience and the identity of the current offense.
If you lose Boyd and Stoudt then you are probably starting a walk-on. Now that should keep you up at night.
2. Free Safety Struggles
I don't have confidence that Robert Smith will be able to handle the position as a starter. There I said it. It is not really his fault because I don't trust anyone who comes from the Cheese DB era. I think Mack Alexander is going to come in and surprise people, working in the two deep immediately. Jayron Kearse will be an interesting piece with his size at the nickel/hybrid spot that Blanks played last year. Blanks will be solid if not exceptional this year but that Free Safety spot worries me. Smith unfairly got pushed on to the field to start a game by Cheese and had his redshirt burned but barely played the rest of the year. Not very fair and a poor evaluation of where he was at as a true freshman. He also played sparingly last year in mostly mop up time. He has seen the field but doesn't have that true game experience.
I hear a lot of positive reviews about Smith. He is as hard a worker as anyone in the offseason supposedly and a good person. He has decent speed, not much length and has needed to learn the position. I am not rooting against him--but if I had to pick a spot on the defensive side of the ball that is most uncertain it has to be FS. If Smith gets injured or doesn't pan out then it is pick your poison with incoming freshman or moving a corner over like Garry Peters. Behind Smith and Blanks you really only have redshirt and true freshman to work with.
Free Safety: Robert Smith Jr
Jadar Johnson Fr (injured in the spring)
Korrin Wiggins Fr
Ryan Carter Fr (not seeing the field this year)
Strong Safety: Travis Blanks
Ronald Geohaghan RFr
Cordrea Tankersley Fr
TJ Burrell RFr (probably more of a Nickel/OLB but could play here as well)
That is a lot of youth and inexperience.
You could argue CB is the weakest position but I think with a healthy Bashaud Breeland, Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins, coupled with freshman talent, you at least have some veteran guys. Blanks performed well against LSU at SS and worked out for all of bowl practice at the position but there is zero depth after him as well. The safety position will be tested against Georgia and will probably be the difference between Gurley having a decent game and Gurley completely destroying us (and to think he could have been ours...). Hopefully a new DB coach makes all the difference for our secondary.
3. No pass rush
When the Clemson defensive line came alive against LSU, we were all shocked. No one expected us to be able to consistently get to the quarterback against the mighty SEC. However, we struggled all year to really provide that degree of pass rush in other games against inferior competition. In the LSU game we saw how a solid pass rush can help mask many of the problems in your secondary. Even the most Orange-aid chugging Clemson fan will admit that our secondary is going to take some lumps at times this year. That could be from young guys learning on the job or the defensive lapses we have come to expect from the 'veterans' which could cost us a game without a pass rush to mask these deficiencies.
Vic Beasley is our only proven pass rushing threat from the DE position. The man's abs are the size of an above average guys chest. But he is still undersized at 232-240 and won't be sneaking up on teams this year the way he did last year. Teams will start game planning around him and he will have to adjust. Corey Crawford was very ineffective given the number of snaps he received last year and needs to be pushed but I just don't see where that is going to come from. Shaq Lawson is just a rookie (although I think Lawson will be a star in the future if he puts in the work and keeps his body in shape) and you don't want to depend on that youth (other than Lawson we haven't recruited an elite pass rushing threat). Tavaris Barnes is competent, if not solid, and always grades out well but he doesn't get off the ball fast enough to really be a pass rushing threat. Kevin Dodd is an interesting prospect and at 6'4 285 he can line up anywhere on the line but he hasn't shown he can get to the QB.
We have some talent but depth and explosiveness are major concerns.
4. The Alabama Effect
Losing the home opener in a top ten showdown can derail your season. In that game against Alabama our Offensive line was completely exposed as frauds. I think we will play well enough in the trenches but a loss to GA at home could really hurt this team. Our recruiting would certainly suffer with all of the recruits we have coming from Georgia and with everyone's sights set on a national championship (no one is going to say this publicly but that is what the team is feeling) the loss would hurt morale. Individuals could start playing for individual accolades or look ahead to the NFL and that lack of focus could produce an ACC loss.
Remember last year was the first year in probably 20 years that we didn't have that ACC slip-up. Sure we lost to FSU but that was at FSU and wasn't because of a Bowdenesque lack of focus where we lost to an inferior ACC team (even two years ago we almost blew it against Wake at home, how time flies).
5. The Ghost of Jad Dean
Jad is a very nice guy so I shouldn't pick on him but kickers are mercurial beings who can lose their confidence quickly. Jad was one of the top kickers in the country heading into his senior year and was thinking of the NFL when he completely lost it. A missed spring game kick here and a shank against Georgia could hurt Catman's confidence. We needed Catman to be clutch to beat LSU and we might need him again to seal victories against our SEC foes.
Just missing the cut: LG, fragile Sammy, DeAndre where art thou?, and Quandon 'practice stud muffin' Christian
Enough of my blabberin--what are potential pitfalls that no one is talking about? What do you see as problematic areas?