Rather than finish this column with impressions and a projected depth chart, risking their burial at the end of this review, I’ll lead with them for those who would rather not digest the shorthand football jargon found below. Last year, I didn’t bother reviewing the second half of the spring game since it involved almost exclusively reserves or walk-ons with a running clock. This year’s quarterback battle puts a premium on every viewable snap, even with a running clock and walk-ons aplenty.
At quarterback, obviously we learned little. Even if Kelly Bryant hadn’t torn a pinky ligament, I doubt we would’ve seen the sort of separation required to firmly assert a leader in the QB race. The jury remains out on Bryant’s passing ability, and we didn’t see Hunter Johnson or Zerrick Cooper get much of a chance to display anything behind an atrocious White team offensive line. All I can definitively assert is Cooper looked the most mentally capable of the trio — as in he kept his eyes downfield and extended plays, while Bryant took off running after one read and Johnson was rattled from the start.
Running back is, as expected, a two man battle between CJ Fuller and Tavien Feaster. I came away impressed with Feaster’s ability between the tackles. Given his billing as the home run threat, he runs very hard inside and with excellent vision. Pass blocking will determine how many snaps he takes from Fuller, but Feaster as the primary backup will still earn more snaps than Fuller did last year as Gallman’s backup. Adam Choice looked better than he has at any point in his career and may contribute after all.
Receiver is the headline group on offense with Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow, and Ray-Ray McCloud comprising a great starting lineup. McCloud should (as in must) have a breakout year at field receiver, but Cornell Powell looked very good and will continue to push him if he can’t find consistency. Based on what I’ve seen from Deondre Overton (and Tee Higgins’ recruiting hype), I expect Higgins will be the “supersub” at boundary receiver, like Cain was these past two seasons. Overton looked far too raw and thin to hold off Higgins for long in fall camp.
Tight end is a major concern, where Garrett Williams (by far the best blocker) tore his ACL earlier this month. Milan Richard has long appeared the heir apparent to Jordan Leggett, but he’s yet to show anything in his few years on campus. Cannon Smith or DJ Greenlee are probably second behind Richard right now. Needless to say, this is alarming. Behind quarterback, of course, this is the position which most concerns me; tight end blocking is crucial in the Clemson run game, and Leggett showed us how impactful a good receiving threat at the position can be. It’s difficult for me to find optimism with any of the options exiting spring.
Offensive line is solid, better than it has been in years at every position except the glaring weakness of center. I’ve lamented Justin Falcinelli to the point of ulceration when I see him on the field. When Gage Cervenka gets the mental aspects down, he will supplant Falcinelli. In fact even if he hasn’t, I see no way he isn’t an upgrade. It’s time for Cervenka or literally anyone else to draw the majority of 1st team center snaps.
The defense appears primed for another elite year with the most returning talent and depth it’s enjoyed since the top-ranked 2014 unit. This is the best starting defensive line in college football. With Dorian O’Daniel at Sam, Kendall Joseph moving to Will, and former 5 star Tre Lamar emerging at Mike, this may even be the best front 7 in college football (Bammers don’t @ me). There is talented and proven depth at every position except defensive tackle, minus Scott Pagano, but still enough talent there to keep that concern near the back of my mind.
Moving Van Smith back to strong safety and allowing Tanner Muse to take over at free safety is the perfect move; the two best safeties will be on the field in their natural positions. There’s even a bit more depth at the position than a year ago with a much improved (as in healthy) Korrin Wiggins. Cornerback will be manned by rotation, but I see Trayvon Mullen as far and away the best CB on campus. I was extremely impressed with K’Von Wallace as well, but he will have difficulty beating out Mullen. Either way, boundary corner is solid — Mullen and Wallace will lock down the boundary role while field corner remains a bit of an uncertainty in its rotation. Ryan Carter is scrappy yet vulnerable downfield; Edmond needs to get stronger this offseason to hold up underneath.
The only concerns on defense are defensive tackle depth, a backup Sam behind O’Daniel (I’d run pure nickel when OD needs a rest before I’d put in Jalen Williams), and field corner. FCB is clearly the least talented group on defense and likely the weakest link — which isn’t bad at all, Clemson won a title with the same personnel at FCB so this speaks to the overall strength of the entire unit. This could be Venables’ best defense ever. (As a professed Venables fanboy I’m drooling on the keyboard and you should too).
Post Spring Two Deep
QB: haha umm? Kelly Bryant by default, Johnson or Cooper takes over later
RB: CJ Fuller, Tavien Feaster (I want more Feaster)
9WR: Deon Cain, Trevion Thompson (Tee Higgins will steal backup 9 role)
2WR: Ray-Ray McCloud, Cornell Powell
5WR: Hunter Renfrow, Trevion Thompson (listed as 9WR but can play 5WR too)
TE: Milan Richard, DJ Greenlee
LT: Mitch Hyatt, Tremayne Anchrum
LG: Taylor Hearn, John Simpson
C: Gage Cervenka, Justin Falcinelli
RG: Tyrone Crowder, Maverick Morris
RT: Sean Pollard, Maverick Morris
WDE: Clelin Ferrell, Xavier Kelly
SDE: Austin Bryant, Richard Yeargin
3DT: Christian Wilkins, Albert Huggins
1DT: Dexter Lawrence, Nyles Pinckney
Sam: Dorian O’Daniel, Jalen Williams
Mike: Tre Lamar, Kendall Joseph/Chad Smith
Will: Kendall Joseph, Shaq Smith/Jamie Skalski
BCB: Trayvon Mullen, K’Von Wallace
FCB: Ryan Carter, Marcus Edmond
SS: Van Smith, Korrin Wiggins
FS: Tanner Muse, Isaiah Simmons
Nickel: Isaiah Simmons, K’Von Wallace/Ryan Carter
Box Safety (Dime): K’Von Wallace, Isaiah Simmons
Laugh at me for being wrong and/or mean in a few months.
Alley = area between the OT and WR. BCB = Boundary Cornerback. Bucksweep = power run with 2 blockers pulling from the backside. Bullet = linebacker A or B gap blitz. C0, C1, C2, C3, C4 (quarters) = coverage scheme by the secondary. DIME OF DOOM = 3rd down 3-2-6 havoc formation. FCB = Wide side or field cornerback. Fire = S, NB, LB blitz from the outside. Green Dog = man blitz when your man stays in to block or is not in the formation. IV= inverted veer. IZ = Inside Zone or Zone blocked play inside the tackles. Jailbreak = 7 or more blitz. LOS = Line of Scrimmage. Man = man to man coverage. OZ = outside zone run or zone blocked play off-tackle. PA = Play Action. PBU = Pass broken up. Power = run play in which backside guard pulls to lead block. Red Dog (overload) = LB and S/NB blitz on the same side. Robber = S or LB underneath zone to take away crossing routes. C3 Sky = SS moves up two yards, takes flat, CBs and FS take deep thirds. Soft= CBs/NB playing well off the WR until he gets to the 1st down line. Stretch = zone blocked run just inside the last offensive player on that side. Stack = the 3 LBs are stacked directly behind DL. Stalk = WR blocks DB in front of him. Sweep = RB/QB run, often FB/ H-B lead play to the D gap. TO = Triple Option. ZR = Zone read option play.
- Thoughts within a play are separated by a comma. (,)
- Each play is separated by an ellipsis. (...)
- First downs are separated by a paragraph.
- Comments on a drive are in italics.
- Offensive personnel listed as a 2 digit number: # of RBs, # of TEs, # of WRs; 11 = 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 receivers; 22 = 2 RB, 2 TE, 1 receiver, etc.
- Defensive personnel listed as # of DL, dash, # of linebackers: 4-3, 3-4, etc.
Play by Play
White ball, Johnson QB, 14:53, White 20, 13-7 Orange lead
11 shotgun vs nickel man cover 1, PA rollout complete to Cannon Smith who peeled a drag, catch and run for 11 yards...
11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, another bad snap from Falcinelli, deep curl route thrown to Overton’s outside shoulder, gets both hands on it but drops it, aggressive coverage from Wallace, he’s been impressive at BCB...11 shotgun vs nickel, counter draw, Smith leads and gets a great block on Joseph (who played Will exclusively by the way) in the hole, gain of 4...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, another snap in the dirt, Johnson rolls right and throws underneath into coverage, incomplete, PUNT.
More of the same; can’t fully evaluate Johnson behind such an overmatched offensive line. The whole White squad seems inferior, truly. Orange can’t pull away due to QB play.
Orange ball, Israel QB, 13:34, Orange 22, 13-7 Orange lead
11 shotgun vs nickel, ZR dive, Xavier Kelly is the read man but shows his great length and athleticism to make the tackle anyway, gain of 3, definitely in for a major workload behind Ferrell...11 shotgun vs nickel, counter trey, Chalk’s arc block seals a lane for Rencher (walk-on), gain of 6...11 shotgun vs nickel, counter to Rencher (Crowder pulls well), 1st down...
11 shotgun vs nickel, RB screen, nobody blocks and it’s a loss of 1...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, quick out to Thompson gains 3...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, Kelly beats gets pressure from the edge with a good speed rush, Israel throws a deep in into double coverage, Wiggins closes for a hard hit when the ball arrives, great to see from Wiggins, PUNT.
White ball, Cooper QB, 11:20, White 32, 13-7 Orange lead
11 shotgun vs nickel, ZR dive to Choice hit behind the line but churns for a yard...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, tunnel screen to Powell not blocked well, Turner flies in for a hard tackle, gain of 2...11 shotgun vs nickel man cover 1, Cooper throws a seam to Chase, double covered, overthrown, and easily intercepted by Turner.
Orange ball, Bryant QB, 9:30, White 37, 13-7 Orange lead
Empty shotgun vs nickel cover 4, double post/corner combos outside with a seam up the middle, Bryant tries the deep seam to Greenlee but it’s thrown too late, inaccurate, great interception by Wiggins...
White ball, Johnson QB, 8:45, White 6, 13-7 Orange lead
11 shotgun vs nickel, IZ to Feaster gains 2 in a pile...empty shotgun vs nickel man cover 1 Will fire, blitz gets to Johnson immediately who rolls out and throws away...11 shotgun vs nickel Tampa 2, corner route to Cain is open but caught just out of bounds, PUNT.
Orange ball, Israel QB, 6:15, White 44, 13-7 Orange lead
11 shotgun vs nickel, jet sweep to McCloud finds a lane and gains 9, great speed...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 3, IZ to Fuller, immediate penetration from Sterling Johnson up the middle but Fuller spins out of his tackle, does well to get the 1st down...
11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, go route to Thompson along the sideline incomplete...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 3 BCB blitz, IZ to Fuller gains 3...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, Davis (Mike) bails too deep like in Tampa 2 and leave the underneath curl open for Bell, 1st down...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 3 NB fire, IZ gains 3...11 shotgun vs nickel man cover 1 Mike bullet, PA deep slant to Thompson complete for the touchdown, both safeties (1 deep and 1 robber) were pulled in by the PA...extra point blocked.
White ball, Cooper QB, 0:18, White 25, 19-7 Orange lead
11 shotgun vs nickel, IV handoff to Choice gains 11...
11 shotgun vs nickel, tunnel screen to Overton has no chance, Shaq Smith closes for the TFL...11 shotgun vs nickel man cover 1 Will fire, corner route to Chase complete, gain of 23...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 3, go route to Cain well-thrown, drops the ball on his back shoulder adjustment, Carter had his hands in there...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, bubble screen to Chase gains 7, good block outside by Powell to make the play successful...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 3, ZR dive to Choice gains 6 up the middle, simply moving the pile for an extra 5 yards...
11 shotgun vs nickel Tampa 2, IZ gains 2...11 shotgun vs nickel man cover 2, speed option keeper gains 2, L Davis made a good play in space...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 3 Mike fire, fade to Powell gains 24, climbed the ladder over Carter, Powell is putting McCloud on notice...
Choice powers his way in on the next play, good to see improvement (health) from him too, like Wiggins he’s another one I may have been premature to write off...
Orange ball, Bryant QB, 8:10, Orange 48 (McCloud return), 19-14 Orange lead
11 shotgun vs nickel, ZR dive gains nothing, Pinckney fought his way inside past Crowder to penetrate...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 3 NB fire, go route to McCloud is open behind Edmond, not enough air under the ball and Edmond gets a hand in as McCloud backtracked for the ball, missed TD pass from Bryant...11 shotgun vs nickel man cover 1 LB bullets, Bryant escapes the sack and scrambles and gets just enough for the 1st down...
11 shotgun vs nickel man cover 1 NB fire, quick out to Renfrow thrown in the dirt...11 shotgun vs nickel, ZR keeper, Bryant runs to the edge but is corralled for no gain, good tackle by Skalski...11 shotgun vs nickel Tampa 2, tunnel screen to Thompson gains only 1, Simpson missed his block in space and Skalski makes another tackle, PUNT.
White ball, Johnson QB, 4:15, White 19, 19-14 Orange lead
11 shotgun vs 4-3, Geilla snaps it between Johnson’s legs, loss of 12...11 shotgun vs 4-3 soft cover 4, check-down curl to Cain gains 6...11 shotgun vs 4-3 cover 4, rollout corner lobbed to Chase, double covered and intercepted by Denzel Johnson...
Orange proceeds to run out the clock.