As part of our season preview we posed several questions about Clemson football to the writing staff. This is the second of several roundtables you will see this week. The question posed to the staff was, “What position is no one talking about that could be a real problem for Clemson?”
MetalTiger: Everyone of course is mentioning QB, I mean who wouldn't after losing the greatest QB (to this point) in school history? And RB is a key piece in this offense, and losing Wayne Gallman who not only allowed us to be multiple in our sets, but also was an asset in pass pro will be missed. And of course, losing two great WRs in Mike Williams and Artavis Scott is not a solid way to help a new QB get acclimated to being the guy.
And when I first processed this question, I was going to say that the C position on the offensive line is something that will be critical to our success, and while it's true, I think it's something that everyone has been wondering and harping on since the departure of Jay Guillermo. Another route I considered is the defensive depth. The defensive line depth is tenuous and there are some young but talented pieces in the secondary, but at this point I think that Brent Venables has more than proven himself capable of keeping the defensive unit playing at a high level.
So this leaves the TE position. If you take a look since 2011 when we went to this fun and powerful offense, our best seasons have come when the TE is highly productive. Jordan Leggett, Dwayne Allen, and even Brandon Ford have found success at TE in our offense and when they provide a nice security blanket for the QB and can attack the center of the field. The TE also allows us, just like the RB, to stay multiple and flex from running formations to 5 wide in a flash.
But as of right now, our crop of potential replacements for Jordan Leggett all seem to have potential, but each seems to also lack something in some ways. Milan Richard is an athletic specimen, but can he be a willing blocker? Cannon Smith is a mountain of a man, but can he really be a threat to the defense flexed wide? JC Chalk may have a good chance at being somewhere between Richard and Smith, but how ready is the redshirt freshman? Garrett Williams is lost for the year and DJ Greenlee offers nothing more than being a 'thud' guy at this point, so where do we turn?
And another damning thing for the TE group is that we haven't really heard a lot of buzz out of camp from the group. The most I can recall is that Dabo has called them out for elevating play at times as a group, but that signals 2 things to me. First, that the play has been poor at times. Second, that there isn't anyone who has taken over and began to dominate the group.
My money is still on Richard to put it all together finally and light up the world with his athletic ability, but he has to become a more willful blocker in order for us to maintain the level of play at TE that we have come to expect with a potent Clemson offense.
Alex Craft: I was tempted to pile on at tight end. But I'm a believer in Milan Richard's talent, if not completely sold on his eventual production. For me it's definitely center. Reports from camp have been positive for Justin Falcinelli, but I take it with a grain of salt given the history of hyperbole and the most recent film available to us from the spring game. It isn't just that Falcinelli disappointed, it's that his performance was borderline catastrophic for a variety of reasons: bad snaps; missed protections (mental); whiffing (physical); poor drive technique.
It could have merely been nerves from assuming the starter role in front of a crowd for the first time, but needless to say it left me somewhat shaken. I hate to dump on a player based on months-old observations, who by all accounts has improved remarkably...but it's still the position which gives me the most pause on the entire roster.
Brian: TE and C are definitely concerns, but I also think one position we aren’t talking much about is CB. Yea, Ryan Carter is a known quality, but we have a lot of guys without much experience as starters and we don’t have that lock down guy we’ve had for 2 years. I can see a world where teams are going to test us throwing. And if they get the ball out quickly it could negate the rest of our defense and put the onus on our DBs, especially our CBs where there is just a lot that we don’t know right now.
Alex: I'm not as concerned about corner; boundary corner in particular could be strong with Trayvon Mullen and K'Von Wallace. Throw AJ Terrell into the mix and you have 3 excellent young players in the rotation. Carter is listed at boundary in the summer depth chart but I do not think it's legitimate, more likely a motivational tactic for Mullen and Wallace since Carter is a much better fit at nickel or field corner -- starting at each position over the last two years. Field corner is more concerning, it's certainly the least-talented position unit on the defense. You're right that teams will certainly feel pressed to throw to beat us, but if Carter and Marcus Edmond are the weakest links, that's serviceable.
MetalTiger: Well, to harp on the secondary a bit though, I am worried about the eye discipline of Tanner Muse and Van Smith some. I know that they're both terrific athletes and both can cover some ground to make up space, but against FSU, Louisville, and Auburn, one wrong step could be the difference between a pass break up and a TD. Muse definitely concerns me more out of the two, as he allowed a long PA TD against Pitt and then I believe Smith bit on a fake in the National Championship game that allowed OJ Howard to run free. So while yes, we need to trust our staffs growth and development history, I am a big fan of "seeing is believing".