Where to begin?
QB Battle: This thing is going to continue up until Fall practice and likely into the season. I think we will have a two QB system or a rotating cast to start the season. Kelly Bryant has elite wheels and knows the system. He can get rattled, he can throw picks, he can be inaccurate, but he generally knows where to go with the ball. Cooper has the elite arm and decent athleticism, but he has times where he is swimming mentally too; has some touch issues and accuracy issues from time to time. Hunter Johnson is a legit QB, but has to process too much right now; he isn’t someone you can trust yet. He will make some great plays with his legs and arm, but then throw a bad pass where you wonder if it is just the system installation or if this will be a lingering problem.
The caveat is the QB position looked like a weakness last week, but the QBs and the offense in general had a great performance on Monday. That has a lot of folks extremely optimistic because the defense is going to be solid overall.
Ones To Watch:
Cornell Powell. Keeps impressing and looking like a breakout star. He won’t get first team reps, but will be a solid contributor and have over 500 yards receiving, at least. Don’t look now, but TJ Chase is also making waves. He won’t take any reps from Hunter Renfrow, but I’m happy with how my projection is turning out. I always said he wouldn’t be a burner and needed to gain weight, but he has elite quickness and gets in and out of his breaks fluidly. He is excelling at the 5 position. I think Tee Higgins comes in and provides the back-up at the 9 with Overton. Good group of backups forming.
Why is everyone so down on RayRay? It is ridiculous. RayRay will be returning punts and starting at the 2 spot. Look for him to motion into the backfield a bit more this season. He will be a weapon.
Look for Feaster to make an impact. Feaster and Fuller are creating some separation. Choice still needs to trust his knee. If Feaster doesn’t have a big year, then the offense will be in trouble.
I’m pleasantly surprised with how our interior line is shaping up. Crowder is taking his game to another level. Getting a bit better in pass pro. Hearn has been pushed by Simpson.
The hiring of a second coach to help the secondary is already a big help. Coach Conn is helping Reed and giving the Safeties more individual time and coaching. This was another good coaching move by Dabo. Coach Bates will need some time to settle in and adjust (that isn’t a fair thing to say though since Dan Brooks was the best in the business), but he isn’t going to hurt the current Dline in that adjustment phase. Wilkins and Lawrence are already 5 star, first round, top ten talents. He also will get more help with the additional coaching hire. My point is that we needed the additional eyes and attention to the secondary. I think this will continue on gameday as well. One point of emphasis in the offseason is cutting down on pass interference penalties and cleaning up technique in that area (one of the reasons Mark Fields being out with turf toe isn’t great for the fall). In one drill the DBs only wear boxing gloves so they can’t grab jerseys. It is something Tankersley did well and truly got away with for the most part, but younger guys haven’t learned to trust their technique.
We are still thin at Safety, but the transition of Smith to SS and Muse to Free was a good move for both. With K’Von Wallace going to the boundary corner position, I suspect that AJ Terrell will start out at Safety. Just depends on where he is needed most.
Trayvon Mullen is definitely one of the players to watch (he did play over 100 snaps last year). He has been getting a lot of first team reps lined up against Deon Cain and seems poised for a breakout year, especially if Fields continues to be hampered by turf toe. Carter is one of your starters and Mullen is in the mix with Edmond, Fields, and Wallace.
Isaiah Simmons almost played last year in a niche role where he came in during Dime packages. Simmons gives a strong Nickel presence and that will likely be his role as a Nickel/SAM hybrid once O’Daniel departs. Look for Simmons on coverage units, he has made some big hits during the Spring.
Speaking of coverage units—they might actually be a strength this year. For the first time in forever I am not fretting about coverage units on special teams. We will see if this continues into Fall but Logan Rudolph and Baylon Spector have an outside chance to avoid redshirts if they can stick with the coverage units in the same way that Skalski did last year. Way too early on that, but there is a deeper pool of longer athletes who want to play on special teams.
LB will be improved this year overall. Venables has moved guys all around during the Spring, but Kendall Joseph is being cross-trained at both MIKE and WILL. Right now I think Tre Lamar is your guy at MIKE and Joseph plays at WILL (Joseph will likely play most of the games to start the season at either position with a rotation of guys at either MIKE or WILL). Chad Smith is now entrenched in the second team at MIKE and as a SAM that is really an extra DE in goal-line/jumbo sets. Shaq Smith is the wildcard who should get on the field, along with Skalski pushing everyone for reps. Jalen Williams continues to work and will primarily back-up O’Daniel, but he knows the MIKE and WILL positions. J.D. Davis is also at WILL and gets some reps.
Overall, that is a young but extremely deep group — certainly Clemson’s deepest since top-ranked 2014 defense. The only thing lacking from last year is probably Boulware’s offensive recognition (and of course his intangibles).
Clelin Ferrell is taking his game to another level. I think we need to start entertaining/coming to terms with the idea that he could be gone after this season.
The Jackson Carman (6’5, 290) visit vaulted Clemson into the lead position. He had a great visit and really connected with Coach Swinney and Swinney’s message of Clemson being a special/unique place and not committing to Clemson until you are sure. His going public with that lead didn’t necessarily help Clemson because it puts the target on Clemson for Ohio State to try and chip away from. Jackson is the self-labelled ‘Soul Collector’ (for good reason, he is wonderfully brutal, tossing around defensive opponents).
He is his own man, independent, and is a recruit who could defy conventional wisdom that he ‘must’ end up at Ohio State. To be clear, OSU doesn’t lose many in-state, highly rated recruits for a reason, especially since Urban came to town. But this recruitment has a different feel.
Clemson has passed the first test with flying colors, but now will have to withstand the onslaught as the leader with the considerable distance. I don’t think that Carman was just coming off a post-visit high or that there is no substance to his claim that Clemson leads. Quite the opposite, but that doesn’t mean that it will last when you are going against Urban Meyer in the state of Ohio.
DT Darnell Jefferies (6’3 275) is visiting again this weekend for the Spring Game. This is his fourth visit in the past month and a half. That is a lot of Clemson visiting. In fact, I can’t remember a time where a recruit took this many visits in a short period of time and didn’t end up committing at some point. Darnell is the number 400 overall player int he 24/7 composite rankings and a lower three star player. That is definitely going to change. This is a weaker DT class, which means teams are searching for prospects, but Jefferies offer sheet is now ridiculous. He pulled offers during the same week that Clemson offered from Auburn, Alabama, and Miami, Notre Dame, Oregon and Ohio State last week. That’s not a low 3 star offer list.
Clemson lost top DT Taron Vincent of IMG Academy to Ohio State (the local connection to OSU coaches was just too much to overcome and this was expected). Clemson also has a little bit of traction with Matthew Jones (6’4 305) of Brooklyn, NY (but that recruitment is in its infancy), but Jefferies is right there on the board despite the low star ranking (that will change). Jefferies projects as a 3-tech who has a compact, muscular frame and a good bit of upside. Now the question remains, what do you do with Wynn if he doesn’t want to play DT and wants to be a strong side DE? How many lineman can you really take in this class? The numbers crunch has already bit us in this class with other position groups. Wynn is a good player and is a legacy offer, but his value is diminished if he sticks at DE. Clemson continues its pursuit of KJ Henry, who puts out a top ten tonight, and Xavier Thomas.
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