Reasons for Optimism and Excitement
Deshaun Watson Keeps Getting Better.
A year ago, Deshaun Watson was coming off knee surgery and while his talent was obvious his ability to stay healthy was still a question mark. Things were even a bit shaky early in the season, particularly against Louisville. Obviously, he found his groove and was the best quarterback in the nation (frankly, deserving of the Heisman trophy). He comes into this season after playing some of the best football college football has seen since Tim Tebow was in Gainesville and is primed for the season as the Heisman favorite.
Wide Receiver U is Back.
Clemson's wide receiver play was adequate last season, but as the mecca of wide receiver play and the self-appointed #WRU, it was not what you'd expect. Mike Williams' injury was the biggest culprit. Without the tall deep threat, Watson was unable to find a reliable partner to take the top off the defense. Charone Peake had a quality season (716 yrds, 5 TDs), but didn't display the ability to high-point the ball in a one-on-one situation against cornerbacks -- more than once leading to Clemson interceptions. Likewise, Artavis Scott's strength is not going up and winning the jump ball on downfield throws.
Fortunately, Deon Cain emerged down the stretch when Scott was banged up and the Tigers really needed a receiver to step up. Still, Clemson's WR corps should be better this season. Hunter Renfrow broke out last season and is primed for a big season in the slot. Mike Williams is back and 100%. Scott played through injuries last season and looked refreshed in the Spring game. On top of that, Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Trevion Thompson have a crucial year of experience under their belts' and should be able to contribute from day one.
The Running Back Corps is "Too Deep."
Wayne Gallman was excellent a season ago. He ran for school-record 1,527 yards with a heavy 283 carry workload. Late in the year this started to wear on him as he had a few nagging injuries crop up.
In 2016, he should be able to lead a deeper RB group that may lighten his workout, keep him fresh, and further improve Clemson's rushing attack. While Zac Brooks was a solid back-up, Clemson will have more depth in 2016.
Adam Choice is likely to be the primary back-up. He took the starting RB job midway through 2014, but tore his ACL and opened the door for Gallman. Adam Choice is now a redshirt sophomore and appears ready to take some of the load off Gallman. Additionally, Tyshon Dye finally looks healthy and ready to contribute. Tavien Feaster gives the Tigers a home run hitter who they will try to get out in space. He comes in as a highly-regarded freshman from Spartanburg and rounds out Clemson's excellent and deep RB corps.
The O-Line Could be Even better
Chronically the most under-valued position by casual fans and the most harped on position by STS readers and writers alike, the offensive line is another reason to be excited.
When news broke last summer that Isaiah Battle would enter the NFL supplemental draft instead of rejoining the Tigers, there was a lot of justified concern. A true freshman would have to start at LT and a promising but seemingly injury-prone QB would have a very green tackle protecting his blindside. Now we look at that episode thankfully and enter 2016 with a more experienced and even better Mitch Hyatt. Jay Guillermo returns and does so without missing much of camp while defeating depression as was the case last year. Tyrone Crowder also returns and should be improved with another year under his belt.
Joe Gore and Eric Mac Lain are gone and I won't downplay their contributions, but Swinney and company have done a much better job of recruiting along the line of late and have quality replacements this time. Taylor Hearn looks poised to take over for Mac Lain for without too dramatic of a drop-off while Jake Fruhmorgen played a fair amount of snaps last season and has been projected as the bookend opposite Hyatt from the start.
So while last year's offensive line took a big step forward to become the best Clemson line in at least a decade, this year's should be just as good and could even be better.
Clemson may have the best DT rotation in the county.
When Clemson landed Christian Wilkins out of CT a little over a year ago, we felt pretty good about this staff's ability to bring in elite talent along the D-line. We knew these type of players, dubbed "war daddies" by some, were how you win championships and we surely got a taste last year. This year we landed another - Dexter Lawrence. Although DJ Reader is now on the Texans, the DT rotation is going to be even deeper than a year ago and may be the best in the entire country. It is so good that Christian Wilkins may even take some snaps at SDE, though he is listed a starting tackle.
Carlos Watkins returns for his senior year and will start alongside Wilkins. Scott Pagano, now a junior, Dexter Lawrence, and Albert Huggins will provide great depth. With all those excellent DTs, opposing offenses may be forced into becoming one-dimensional aerial attacks.
If you haven't already read Part I, be sure to jump back to the home page and read our reasons for worry and fretting for a balanced viewpoint.