Here are some of my top storylines heading into fall camp.
First, (not) clarifying the QB situation.
I am already on record stating that the most likely scenario entering the Furman game was Kelly Bryant getting the first snaps but he and Trevor Lawrence sharing snaps (with Brice even getting in on the fun). Bryant will likely start against A&M, where it matters, but, again, they both will play. I also have said that TL will overtake KB through the course of the season. Nothing from Summer or coaches statements entering Fall camp has changed that viewpoint.
Coach Swinney has played this right. You could not afford to have KB transfer before the season (or Chase Brice), but you also need to show current and future recruits that freshmen can and will play early at Clemson. See DJ Uiagalelei (who I already have a man crush on).
Speaking of DJ—at this current moment, Clemson leads. There are Polynesian ties to the coaching staff in Oregon, but Clemson impressed the family with the culture/environment that exists in the camp setting (and why Clemson won’t ever change that with Dabo as the head coach). And by culture, I mean the weaving of faith into Swinney’s operation and how that reflects through his players (see the last question Swinney was asked at the ACC media day). DJ is the top overall player next year and has all the tools and build to eventually go number one overall. He plays in CA for one of the top programs in the country at Don Bosco in CA and he is not just an arm and a talent, he is a football player already. All 6’4, 230 pounds of him (he is physically built like a Cam Newton already).
I am not pumping the brakes on the TL hype train. This conductor is shoveling in the coal and letting it ride. One observer I chatted with called TL the best QB to ever step foot on the Clemson campus. I said—wooah, there fellah—what about Deshaun Watson? He said—yep. At this point, TL is the best. Talked to another person who personally knew TL growing up and he said he was just a quiet, cool guy—quiet almost to an awkward level. Very confident and sure of himself, just kept to himself.
TL just needs to gain another five to ten pounds of muscle to be in the Heisman category (he might be there without it, but that is where he can still progress). He is showing in camp that he can run and is elusive, but at this point I don’t mind a two QB system where KB is doing the majority of the running to save TL’s true freshman body. This is why I’m not freaking out over KB starting the season or pulling a bunch of snaps.
When Bryant was on against Miami and other opponents, he was really good and Clemson was able to grind games out after taking the lead early. But, after re-watching a lot of games, it was really frustrating to struggle against so many teams late into games with such a dominant defense. Clemson needs to stretch the field vertically and horizontally to be a flashy, exciting powerhouse and TL is the player to achieve that goal. KB can help pound it into the endzone and get first downs while mixing it up and keeping TL healthy. And if TL can’t earn it on the field and KB keeps leading the team to victory—so be it.
The health of Jamie Skalski
No one in the media asked a follow-up when Swinney said Skalski injured his foot at the golf outing and said it was something small. This is a huge deal if it is a fracture of the fifth metatarsal or a Jones fracture that sidelined Kevin Durant, Austin Bryant and Braden Galloway. The reason it is cause for concern is that it is a tricky fracture that can easily brake again and requires another round of surgery and healing. It takes 6-8 weeks to heal, but if broken again you start all over. It also can be tough to fully rehab. I want to know how he looks in Fall camp because reports in Spring had him competing for the starting position.
Garret Williams in the passing game
The TE position was part of the problem on offense last year. Too many missed blocking assignments and the disappearance of vertical seam routes and anything over the middle of the field. This was a combination of TE and QB deficiencies. I want to see how much Williams can help in the passing attack and if he can reliably stay on the field to take snaps from Richard. GW will definitely improve our run blocking at TE. No question. If Clemson is going to stick with KB and a run oriented offense then GW’s physical presence will improve our running game—he was missed against a team like Bama.
Backup Offensive Lineman
John Simpson taking over the Left Guard spot and excelling is one of the more important developments for the offensive line. It means that on short yardage Clemson has a solid left side to rely on and Simpson has the talent to improve the performance at that position. However, the staff felt compelled to move Pollard inside because the backups weren’t going to cut it going into the Spring. Pollard moving inside gives little depth at Tackle. Guys have progressed, however. The name that keeps coming up in conversations is Bockhorst. He has the most potential to make a move in Fall camp. Giella and DeHond are still projects. McFadden is going to take a year or two. Your only backup Tackle is really Vinson who is still maturing, same with Reeves. Cade Stewart gives you some snaps, but is limited physically. The front line of starters is potentially the best in the Swinney era, but the depth needs to progress and develop.
Defensive Tackle Depth
Jordan Williams looks legit. He and Pinckney are the starters next year and Williams needs to continue to progress. Jefferies will also get snaps and will be your depth next year. And, no, there aren’t any DE’s who are going to bulk up to DT. Sterling Johnson left because he was already passed on the depth chart, but the loss/transfer/missed eval of Belk leaves a big hole on the roster. When you don’t take enough players and fill your numbers at positions, this is what happens if you miss on a guy. Jefferies is fine, but he is a project. Big need in the 19 and 20 classes. Fall camp is big for the progression of all three.
This is a re-occurring theme—depth problems. We have them at Safety and at Corner this year, but especially next year. Clemson is relying on Nolan Turner and Denzel Johnson for their entire Safety depth this year if they want to keep Isaiah Simmons at the Nickel/SAM position. Muse also has some work to do after being replaced midseason and struggling with some busts in coverage. Same with CB where Mullen, Fields, and Terrell make an elite starting group, but Reed and Conn are fighting over who will get Kyler McMichael and Goodrich. First reports have Kyler ready to contribute early and Mario needing some time to acclimate. I will be watching where both lineup in camp and how quickly they handle the install.
I will be watching the 9 position to see if Overton and Tee Higgins are able to get better separation at the line of scrimmage. Getting a clean release is key to opening up the passing game and this is the area both need to improve on. Also I want to see what coaches will do with Cornell Powell. He got passed by Amari Rodgers on the depth chart and will battle with DK for the backup position. He needs to take another step if he is going to get over 150 snaps this season. Powell starts camp at WR, but if there is an injury in the secondary does he go to Safety full-time?
BT Potter enters the kicking game. He will take over the kickoff duties and will compete to kick field goals. I can see a scenario where he is your long range field goal kicker this year, taking over the starting role next year. Huegel and Spence will start camp competing for the starting job with Potter the dark horse.
I expect a lot of movement from this weekend. I expect at least two commitments. We already saw the 2020 commitment of LB Sergio Allen (6’1.5, 220) and fellow commit Demonte Capehart on campus Thursday.
In the 2019 class the star uncommitted prospect coming to campus is Clay Webb (6’3, 295). Webb is my top interior lineman for the 2019 class, and my pick for the top overall lineman in the class. I think he could start for Clemson at Center (or possibly Guard) next year and perform very well. This won’t be an easy pull for an Olineman from Oxford, Alabama, but it can be done. Clemson is competing with Alabama and Georgia, two teams that have cleaned Clemson’s clock when recruiting offensive lineman. UGA uses our lack of high draft picks against us and that we play in a spread system. But Webb is a different kind of recruit who will give Clemson a fair chance. Obviously Clemson’s offensive line recruiting in the past two cycles has been disappointing in numbers and talent (other than the amazing pull of Carman), but all would be forgiven by landing Webb. Caldwell will be key in this recruitment, but Alabama is also Todd Bates territory and he is assisting here.
Joseph Ngata (6’3, 210) is also coming—all the way from Folsom, CA. He is the second WR take in this class and the player Jeff Scott has for his bullseye. As I said early in the cycle, not many get away from Scott and #WRU. That is trend is very likely to continue.
Another target on commit watch is LB LaVonta Bentley (6’1, 215) from Birmingham, Alabama. Bentley was waiting on an Alabama offer, but he is open to committing to Clemson (seeing the writing on the wall that he doesn’t profile as a Bama LB). Bentley is also considering Ole Miss, but Venables also has a good record of landing his LB targets. Bentley is a bit undersized (probably closer to 6’0 than 6’1), but has a lot of tools to work with as the number 267 composite ranked player overall.
Jaden McKenzie (6’3, 290), a quality DT prospect from Wake Forest, NC, is also going to be on campus. UNC is the team to beat here, but Clemson will have staying power and Dexter Lawrence coming from the same school definitely helps Clemson.
The crown jewel, however, for the defensive class is CB Andrew Booth (6’1, 195). Clemson is in a serious fight with Auburn to land his services and Booth stated that he will visit Auburn and Clemson this weekend and it will be a tug of war for him. You may have seen that Shyheim Battle committed to NC State this week, realizing that Clemson was slow playing and wanting to lock up his spot with State (I liked Battle’s measurables—just as much, if not more than soon to be committed Phillips and commit Zanders). Booth is where things start and stop with Clemson at CB until he makes his decision. Important weekend in that pursuit.
Other arrivals planned for the cookout are Etinosa Reuben (6’4, 270) a jumbo defensive end/defensive tackle prospect from KC, Missouri. This is a Brent Venables find/target, who is someone else to watch as a take for this cycle. Enoch Jackson Jr. (6’0, 290) from Mansfield, TX will also be attending. He isn’t at the top of the DT list right now, but he is offer worthy and someone to monitor.