Spring practice is always a time of hope. Every player has gotten strong, every player is now faster. Or at least that’s what we hear even if it doesn’t always match reality. But spring is an excellent opportunity to take a look at freshmen. For many of these players this is their first offseason at Clemson and an opportunity to take some big strides. The first offseason means months dedicated to improving strength, speed, and agility. It is also an opportunity to improve technique in practice, something all young players need. Below is a look at a few of the redshirt freshmen and early enrollees worth keeping an eye on in spring practice.
Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the quarterback battle this week, but for both of these players spring practice is an opportunity to get some real first team reps. Reports have been high on Cooper, but keep an eye on how many reps Johnson gets with the first team. As the newest guy to the team that may be a good indication of where Johnson stands on the learning curve.
That said remember that even Deshaun Watson didn’t blow everyone out of the water in his first spring practice before getting hurt so Johnson’s snaps won’t be predictive. But it will give us an idea of what the coaches think despite what they may say.
The DT redshirted this past year and it should do him a lot of good. With Scott Pagano leaving there is an opportunity for Pinckney to grab a backup spot in the 2-deep and see some real playing time this year. We’ve had a bit of a man-crush on Pinckney since he signed and his work this spring is going to be important.
Pinckney is also going to be interesting because he could be a good barometer of new coach Todd Bates and his ability to teach technique. While one spring practice isn’t going to be definitive, it will give us an idea of Bates’ ability to work with guys who might not be the athletic freaks that say Christian Wilkins or Dexter Lawrence are.
Lasamuel Davis and Xavier Kelly
Both DEs redshirted last year and we’ve kind of forgotten about them. That should change this year because both will compete for playing time. DE has some real talent at the top, but Christian Wilkins should move back inside and that frees up some real playing time for Clemson. Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are almost certainly the two starters, but nothing is set in and stone. As a DE if you are in the 2 deep at Clemson you are going to get real playing time and one of these guys, though likely Kelly, should easily push for that spot. Remember that Kelly would have likely played a role in 2016 if it wasn’t for his moped accident during Fall Camp. He is not your regular redshirt freshman but rather someone that had the talent to play day 1.
The LB group is going to be absolutely fascinating to watch this spring. The past two years we’ve seen essentially 3 players fill in 2 spots over 2 years. This year we’ve spent a lot of time talking about Tre Lamar and Jamie Skalski. But Shaq Smith will be one to keep an eye on because redshirting may give him a leg up. Yes, he didn’t get game experience, but he was able to focus on developing physically and mentally in practice. That might help him adjust to the college game better, especially at such a cerebral position as LB for Brent Venables.