When I smell football, I leap out of the shadows and into the light. Ok, so maybe leaping into the kitchen and tackling my lady friend for a 2 yard loss is a bit much, but that's ok because I can't help it. I love football.
It was a nice 2 month vacation from articles for Mr. Kraken. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I enjoyed reading all the fine articles from Kantor, Goodison, Ingles, and Quacking Tiger. I still miss Dr. B and FF's take on things but I feel like STS has really demonstrated a strong ability to cover Clemson athletics that aren't football recently.
...but I'm not here to talk about other sports. I'm here to talk about the greatest team competitive sport ever created, American Football. Can I get 2 claps and a Ric Flair? Winter workouts are over and Clemson gets back on the practice field to find out who is ready to earn their spot in the 2 deep.
Here are some things I'll be looking for that maybe aren't the obvious things you've been reading on other Clemson sites around.
Do I need to wear shades because the future is so bright?
Due to the recruiting strategy we have used of loading up on one particular position group, we have seen freshmen earn major playing time, sometimes taking their lumps, and then becoming effective players by year 2.
In 2011, it was WRs (Watkins, Humphries, Bryant, Peake) and LBs (Anthony, Steward, Goodson). In 2012, it was OL (Battle, Guillermo, DeStefano, Jones). In 2013, it was DBs (Kearse, Alexander, Wiggins, Johnson, Tankersley, Edmund, Carter). In 2014, it was WR again (Scott, Kitt, Priester, Thompson).
This year, we have an influx of, not just freshmen, but early enrollee freshmen at multiple positions of need; most notably OL, DL, and backup QB. We know that some of these guys have spots cleared for them in the two-deep and some will redshirt. We just don't know who that is right now and how many but, by the end of the spring, we should see that pecking order begin to develop. Then, by the end of fall camp in August, I expect to see the two deep sprinkled with more Freshman and redshirt Freshmen than we have had in many years.
Our special teams were abysmal last year except for Ammon Lakip, who turned a slow start into a solid year at K. Thankfully, he returns. However, we lose our punter, long snapper, holder, and punt returner as we start spring practice. As you all know, special teams in practice and special teams in a game are two different levels of pressure and execution can fluctuate. I'll be interested to see if Dabo and Pearman can find consistent players that won't buckle under the lights.
Punt returner, though, is probably the most interesting special teams position heading into the spring. As we all painfully remember, the 2013 South Carolina game was basically lost due to ball security on punt returns. That game seemed to shell-shock the coaching staff. The focus since then has been strictly on maintaining possession for the offense. Will that be changing now that Humphries is gone and we seem to have an abundance of players with the punt returner skill-set?
We finished 109th in punt returns last year and earned the sarcastic moniker, "Fair Catch University." I do not believe this is an acceptable fate with as many playmakers as we have. Ball security is at a premium but so is field position.
PR looks like a prime spot to get a Ray Ray McCloud or Deon Cain the ball while they learn the offense. However, will Dabo trust the true freshmen to well, not make freshman mistakes? If not, my darkhorse candidate to be the punt returner next year is Marcus Edmond. Edmund has effortlessly deceptive speed where he doesn't look like he's running as fast as he is. In high school he showed that he runs under control and seems to have a 2nd gear when he wants it. He also has good vision, good hands, some wiggle, and isn't afraid to get hit. He looks like a PR, walks like a PR, must be a PR.
Check out his high school film for yourself:
Much like fall camp, it is most important that we avoid any serious injuries at positions where we are most thin. Here are the guys that I think absolutely cannot suffer a serious injury that renders them out for the season.
DeShaun Watson - Please no. Any potential of us competing for a championship is tied to him staying healthy.
Carlos Watkins and D.J. Reader - If either of them suffer a serious injury, prepare yourself for some disappointing run defense for the first 2/3 of the season.
Isaiah Battle - Blindside protector. See DeShaun Watson.
Ammon Lakip - anybody interested in breaking in a new kicker. Me neither.
I'm not saying all of these guys need to be treated with kid gloves but, I am saying that they should be treated differently than everybody else.
Now if you'll excuse me, I think I hear my lady friend going for it on 4th and 1.
Upcoming articles from me will include: Orange and White Game Film Review, STS Prediction Thread, 1990 Defense vs. 2014 Defense, Statistical National Championship Expectations, Elite Teams in 2014, and Elite Programs heading into 2015.