Alright, so almost done with the diss, but I have been wanting to write about Spring Practices so badly. These views may not be popular, but I think they will generate some conversation about expectations for next year. Here are my main takeaways and things to look for tomorrow.
1. We have a new "Spring Hero".
Come on everyone--did we really fall for this, yet again. Nick Schuessler, sleepy Shue, is having a great Spring of practice certainly. But lets put this in perspective. If Schue ever played any meaningful snaps in a game then our championship aspirations are shot. He still has average arm strength, decent mobility, and average to below average accuracy. Streeter is good for him, but Nick shouldn't start a game while at Clemson.
Kelly Bryant is the one to watch this weekend. Tucker Israel does a lot of nice things but just as I said during his recruitment, he will always be limited by height and he isn't a serious dual threat guy. Bryant has the arm and the high ceiling. He needs to progress in making reads and learning the offense, but he is going to battle Cooper as the heir apparent to Watson.
2. Offensive line not so offensive
Mitch Hyatt is going to play this year. The only real question is whether he will back-up at LT or split time with Joe Gore at RT. That is clear to everyone.
The new guys have come in and pushed everyone. Finally, we have a crop of offensive lineman--not athletes being introduced to the position, not just big guys but players who have been groomed and understand the fundamentals. Jake Fruhmorgan already has better steps than just about anyone on the O-line. It was so obvious that they went ahead and moved everyone inside.
Falcinelli is playing at center, which is a good move because Guillermo is probably going to be out for awhile--no one know if he will come back for fall camp at this point. We are stuck with Norton who looks the same as last year, undersized. Hearn is also inside, another good move because he does not have the foot speed to stay at Tackle, at all. Hopefully he can play guard, he has a better chance to ultimately contribute but I still have my doubts we will get much of anything from him. Hearn is at LG and Maverick Morris got moved to RG, behind Crowder. This was done for depth but also shows how well the freshmen are doing because they have already been anointed as the future at the Tackle positions.
Remember that both Battle and Gore are gone next year so Hyatt and Fruh will play a ton this year. This is speculation, but I think the reason Hyatt is staying exclusively at LT is to learn the position for next year. He might slide to the right side in fall camp depending on how Gore does.
MacLain and Crowder are going to start. Crowder should be solid, especially in run blocking. Work in progress in pass blocking but getting better. If you remember Eric MacLain played a ton against Oklahoma and I predicted he would be the starter moving forward. Without Jay in the mix, that is definitely the case now. Gore is up and down still and with Battle that is your starting five. MacLain improving will be a key piece of the offensive lines development.
I'm not sure Noah Green and Zach Giella avoid redshirts. I think it would be in both of their best interests to redshirt, but it all has to do with weight and strength gains. Green and Giella still need to develop more in the upper body and Green needs to add about 15-20 pounds of good weight. He sits at 270ish right now.
Right now, I think we can expect the line to improve from last year--how much remains to be seen. Depth is still an issue.
3. Defensive line worries: DE
I'm still concerned with the defensive line. Lots of raw talent but still a work in progress. Lawson will be a beast and will need to stay in the 270 range after getting fatter last year (I knew it, he admitted he got up in 280's). Who is behind him is the real question. The answer is no one. Dodd is serviceable on the other strongside, but I worry about his ability to set the edge. Ebo is making strides after being moved to the strongside as well (still curious since he is in the 250's), to provide quality depth. After that, it gets pretty thin.
Albert Huggins has a chance to play, but he is having the usual struggles adjusting to the speed of the game. He really is best suited at DT, but will likely stick at DE because of a lack of depth. He might be able to contribute this year, but no one should have too high of expectations. Aiken is a miss going into his junior year--not athletic enough and still undersized. Needs a big summer to be a contributor. Great Dane Rogers is another player without in-between tackle and DE, which means he doesn't have a position and is another miss right now. Chris Register will need time to adjust and develop (but glad he got moved because we need more than bodies at DE and he has talent). Yeargin is still really skinny at 230 or so but will have a chance to play some this year. One of the true freshman coming to campus will get a chance to step in right away--probably Austin Bryant.
Ultimately we have little to no depth. Apart from Lawson, we have very little experience or proven pass rush. I am really glad we have those two warm up games because we need all of these linemen to get more experience. Dodd, Ebo, and whoever backs up Lawson could be key to the success of the season. Regardless the lack of a consistent pass rush will put pressure on the back end. Things won't get much better next year when Lawson most likely heads to the NFL. Got to do a better job recruiting at DE (probably the last piece of the recruiting puzzle but an important one).
4. Other guys to watch
This spring game won't be the usual waste of time that it normally is (Chad Kelly going into full meltdown mode last year is a different kind of waste). Key contributors will play that we haven't seen much of before or guys who have the chance to be "the guy."
D.J. Reader: Curious pick I know but I went back and watched his film last year and I was not happy with what I saw. He saw a reduced number of snaps because other guys improved around him and he regressed. He was very slow getting off the ball last year. Supposedly he has been unblockable at times in fall camp but I wonder if that is more about our centers sucking than Reader being elite. Reader was really good his freshman year, but he hasn't taken the big step forward we all thought he would. Also, want to see Watkins back in form and Pagano continue to pull playing time.
Korie Rogers: Goodson and Boulware will be decent at LB and should keep their positions throughout the year. Rogers is vital to quality depth, however. I think he can get close to 200 snaps on the season though. O'Daniel is the other guy. We haven't had anyone who could really hold down the SAM position--it would give Venables an added dimension of flexibility in his scheme.
Korrin Wiggins: What position is he ultimately going to play? He excelled at the Nickel corner spot towards the end of last season, but it sounds like there is a plan to get him on the field at Safety full-time. If that is the case, does this mean that TJ Green just isn't ready and will be the back-up? Are we going to play more SAM with O'Daniel? Who sees the majority of the Nickel CB snaps?
Charone Peake: Should be poised for that breakout year we were waiting for the past two seasons. If he is fully healthy our WR corps goes from good to elite very quickly.
The other CB opposite Alexander: Right now it is going to be Tank but will anyone else challenge him. Will Baker or Edmonds show us anything? Can a young DB step into the mix in Fall?