The defending national champion Clemson Tigers opened up fall practice yesterday with several questions surrounding the team. But before we get to that, can I just say how much fun it is to type, “defending national champion Clemson Tigers.” I’m going to abuse that phrase a lot this year and I’ll make no apologies for it.
But anyway, with fall practice officially starting there are plenty of questions surrounding the Tigers and only 4 weeks until Clemson opens the season against Kent State. In honor of everyone’s love of lists we are highlighting some of the biggest position questions that Clemson has to answer this month.
Will A QB emerge? Or will we have a repeat of 2014?
Right now Kelly Bryant leads the QB competition. But his position is not secure and the QB competition is expected to run all the way through fall camp. There are positives and negatives for each QB on the roster and honestly there isn’t enough time in fall camp for all of them to get a true shot. The general consensus seems to be that Bryant will get the start against Kent State, but Hunter Johnson will be Clemson’s starting QB by the end of the year.
Yet Zerrick Cooper is still a talented player and Chase Brice is now on campus. If either of these guys is able to put in the work through August and put everything together they could seriously challenge Johnson and Bryant. Oh and everyone wants to dismiss Tucker Israel because of his spring game performance, but if he continues to excel in the fall he could at least earn a backup role.
Can Milan Richard Become a Force at TE?
Everyone is going to focus on the QB battle in August. It is only natural when replacing the best player in Clemson history there will be a lot of questions. But TE could be more important. Clemson can run an offense without a tight end that is great at blocking and catching the ball. But it isn’t great. When Clemson has a TE that is willing to go make a spectacular catch, like Jordan Leggett, the offense goes from good to sublime.
Right now Milan Richard is the only real hope at TE for Clemson. Garrett Williams shouldn’t play this year after tearing his ACL in the spring and it is hard to see the rest of the TEs developing into a receiving threat. That leaves it all to Richard to get the Clemson offense humming.
What Happens Along the DL?
Injuries and transfers have made a bit of a mess of Clemson’s DL depth. Right now Clemson has 6 DTs and 7 DEs available for the season. The starting talent isn’t a question. When guys like Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, and Dexter Lawrence are playing you have an idea of how good the starters will be.
But what about the backups? And what happens if there is an injury? A good rotation on the DL gives the defense a consistent pass rush and a physical presence needed for a great defense. Watch what Brent Venables says about the DL as fall camp progresses to see how much depth Clemson will really have on the DL.
Which RB Will Protect the QB?
Clemson has a Wayne Train to replace and it isn’t going to be easy. But the good news at RB is there is a nice group of RBs that will try to shoulder the load. And unlike previous seasons there is a nice mix of potential. Some guys are going to be speedsters out wide while others bruisers up the middle.
But ultimately the guy that is going to get the starting job is the RB that can protect the QB the best. This is why CJ Fuller and Adam Choice are thought of as the front runners to start at RB. Both have plenty of time in the Clemson offense and at least understand the protection calls. They may not be the best runners, but protecting the QB will soothe a lot of hurts while running the ball.
Keep an eye on Tavien Feaster though. He came into camp at an excellent weight and still seems to have his speed. If he’s learned enough after a full offseason he could provide a mix of electric running and pass blocking.
Who is going to punt the ball?
Let’s be honest, Clemson got a bit lucky with special teams last year. While it did not actively hurt Clemson, it didn’t provide any benefit. Greg Huegel is a good kicker. He’s consistent even if he doesn’t have the range of the better college kickers. But on kickoffs it isn’t pretty. There is a reason that Clemson did pooch kicks in the national title game and it wasn’t because Alabama is the best return unit ever. Hopefully Alex Spence has worked on his strength and consistency, or Huegel has improved. I’m not picky, just hoping for better kickoffs
Oh and punting, the less said the better. Fall camp opens with 3 players vying for the punters job. Will Spiers, Carson King, and Michael Batson will all compete for the job with the winner likely earning a scholarship. It’s easy to forget Bradley Pinion’s spectacular punts were crucial to 2014’s defense keeping Clemson in games. Here the goal will be to find someone that is consistent and can punt the ball 45+ yards. That may be a pipe dream, but consistency is critical to flip the field in Clemson’s favor.