It’s late May, the bit of CFB-related news you’re consuming right now is mostly just speculation, with no one really knowing anything about what’s going to happen come August. At this time of year, even the smallest stories can seem like major breaking news, so its important to remember just how much practice and competition is left in between now and opening kickoff. I say this because on Wednesday, Clemson football released its first depth chart following spring practice, giving us a bit more to speculate on as we enter the doldrums of the college football offseason.
Things We Expected
Kelly Bryant is still the starter at QB
Despite what you heard across [the twitterverse/blogosphere/thunderdome] when Hunter Johnson announced his transfer, Trevor Lawrence taking over as the starter is not a done deal in the slightest. After all, Kelly Bryant did dismantle Miami in the ACCCG and take Clemson back to the playoffs. He’s proven that Clemson can at least play at a playoff-level with him at the helm, and that’s nothing to discount.
Many will say that keeping Bryant as the starter is a classic Dabo move, a la the Watson/Stoudt/Kelly QB battle of 2014, when Stoudt was named starter coming out of camp and remained the starter until Dabo’s hand was forced by Watson. The comparison seems somewhat apt with people saying Bryant is Stoudt and Lawrence is Watson, but Bryant has a larger body of work than Stoudt. That year of experience may be enough to keep Lawrence further away from a starting role than Watson was in 2014. (The ongoing QB battle has a eerie number of similarities to the one in 2014, minus the whole Chad Kelly fiasco, but that’s a topic for another time).
Dexter Lawrence and Albert Huggins are co-starters
Okay, this may have been something that not very many people expected, but I certainly did. Being STS’s resident D E X T E R L A W R E N C E A P P R E C I A T O R, I’d been following his offseason closely. Coming off of a foot surgery to assuage the pain from an injury that lingered most of last season, Lawrence was limited in spring practice. This gave Huggins a lot more reps to prove his ability, and as talented as Lawrence is, it never hurts to have experienced depth to rotate him with. They’re big dudes, big dudes need to breathe.
If this remains the setup for the two through fall, I’d say the coaches are expecting Huggins to breakout this season, if not, they may have just been trying to motivate both players going into the summer.
Kendall Joseph is back at MLB
One of the group of returning starters we thought may leave for the NFL, Kendall Joseph, is hands down Clemson’s most experienced linebacker, and should be a force in the middle following his year as an OLB. Backing him up is Tre Lamar, who should pair well as a blitz partner when on the field with Joseph. The middle of the Clemson defense is absolutely ferocious, and if any team is brave enough to run it up the gut when Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are in front of Joseph, they probably won’t do it again.
Miscellaneous expected things
Isaiah Simmons is listed as the starter at Sam/Nickel, a position that seems perfect for the chaotic neutral player that he is on the field. He’s not as lanky, but he reminds me a lot of Jayron Kearse in terms of versatility. You’ll see Simmons in coverage just as much as you see him blitzing the passer or rushing off the edge. Listed as 6’3” 225 on the depth chart, it will be intriguing to see how Venables uses Simmons in various packages.
The secondary is mostly* what everyone expected, Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace make up the back line and A.J. Terrell, Mark Fields, and Trayvon Mullen are the starters at CB. *we’ll touch on this later
Tee Higgins, Amari Rogers, Trevion Thompson, and the First Consul of the Roman Republic Hunter Renfrow, are listed as the starters at WR. This should be another über talented and electrifying WR corps for WRU.
Things We Did Not Expect
Travis Etienne is the starter.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I am 100% on the Etienne train, but even I didn’t expect him to be the out-and-out starter. At best I was thinking he’d get an “or” next to his name, but no. Travis Etienne is the sole #1 back, followed by Adam Choice or Tavien Feaster at #2. The whole RB depth chart is a bit of a surprise, to be frank. Ask me a week ago what I thought it would be and I would say it would be the reverse, with Feaster as the #1 and Etienne or Choice as the #2.
Feaster is the most surprising out of the three, and his placement brings up questions about when exactly he’ll become the feature back that many were expecting. He came in with C.J. Spiller-level expectations, even getting to wear Spiller’s retired #28, but so far he hasn’t consistently shown Spiller-level game-breaking abilities. Hopefully this is just a tactic by the coaches to get him motivated headed into fall camp.
Tre Lamar is a backup, JD Davis is a starter
This one truly shocked me, in my head Tre Lamar is the next big thing at linebacker, ready to dominate college football now that he’s experienced. But most of what’s in my head about Tre Lamar stems from his highlight from the FSU game, when he almost broke a man in half.
A blue-chipper out of high school, and a solid contributor last year, one would expect Lamar to be a starter with the turnover a LB. JD Davis, and his twin brother Judah, meanwhile, were seen by many fans simply as legacy recruits, given scholarships due to their father being legendary Clemson linebacker Jeff Davis. But throughout their time at Clemson, both brothers have seen more action than one would initially expect out of legacies. JD Davis will be taking over at WLB, which should be a good fit due to his 6’2” 225lb frame compared to Lamar’s 6’4” 250lbs.
But Lamar wasn’t ever going to be the WLB, he’s a MLB through and through, which begs the question: why have Kendall Joseph move back inside? Was it because JD Davis was good enough to take over, Tre Lamar’s injury, or because Tre Lamar wasn’t ready? If JD Davis was good enough to warrant moving Joseph back inside or he was moved because of Lamar’s injury, then that’s no cause for alarm. But if it was because of Lamar unreadiness then it may be time to get concerned about the linebackers.
Miscellaneous unexpected things
Jackson Carman, the 5-star offensive lineman out of Ohio, being listed as the 3rd LT and LG is a bit of a surprise for me, I was expecting him to be a backup or even get an “or” tag. I may have gotten spoiled by Mitch Hyatt’s immediate OL-anchor status as a true freshman, though. It’s important to remember just how rare it is to start a true freshman on a playoff-caliber OL.
Look just how dumb deep this defensive line is. THEY LISTED NINE DEFENSIVE ENDS.
(I’ll admit this was completely expected but I was still stunned.)
And speaking of the defensive line, I was utterly shocked to see our best pass defender, Christian Wilkins, get moved from safety to DT. An interesting choice by the coaching staff, hopefully it works out.
In the end, the depth chart could be completely different come kickoff, all of these decisions completely reversed, even. This is essentially a rough draft, and it’s important to keep that in mind. The main ideas will probably all be in the final draft, but change is inevitable, especially in this insane sport. All we can do in the meantime is hope for the players to avoid injury and see what happens next.