With Clemson’s spring practice in the books, here’s what we know and what we learned about the Tigers as the offseason continues.
For the first time since 1982, Clemson spent a spring as the defending national champs. The 15-practice session marked the dawn of a new day for the Tigers, especially on offense. The program is not only replacing star QB Deshaun Watson, but also leading rusher Wayne Gallman, ace pass-catchers Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett and two starting linemen.
1. QB Race Remains Unsettled
If the season started today, junior Kelly Bryant would be quarterbacking the Tigers. Obviously, the season does not start today.
Since no one distinguished himself in the spring, the race to succeed Watson will continue in the summer. Bryant has the edge in experience and system knowledge. So did Cole Stoudt in 2014 before Watson’s talent became impossible to keep off the field. Redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper and blue-chip true freshman Hunter Johnson are hoping to travel a similar trajectory between now and the start of the season versus Kent State. Dabo Swinney has proven he’ll use young kids in key spots if they’re ready. It’s now up to Johnson or Cooper to show that they’re ready to unseat the safe choice who backed up Watson the past two seasons.
2. RB Tavien Feaster and WR Ray-Ray McCloud Made Strides
The loss of Watson justifiably makes most of the headlines. But Gallman and Williams are leaving behind enormous holes as well.
The fun part about Clemson is that when one star departs, another is usually waiting in the wings. It’s just the way Swinney and his staff are recruiting these days. And while the running back pecking order remains undecided and Deon Cain is the likely king of the receivers, Feaster and McCloud turned heads in March and April. Both possess game-breaking potential and speed. And both arrived in camp with more confidence and a noticeable sense of purpose. McCloud is attacking his junior year with a businesslike approach, a promising development for a passing game likely to use him liberally on short and intermediate routes.
3. The D is a Constant
While the offense is unsettled this offseason, the D will challenge as one of the toughest in America in 2017.
The Tigers are flush in returning stars and starters at all three levels, particularly in the front seven. And 15 spring practices afforded young players like sophomore FS Tanner Muse to announce their candidacies as budding stars of the future. If there’s an area of uncertainty for coordinator Brent Venables, it’s at cornerback, all-star Cordrea Tankersley’s old stomping grounds. Junior Mark Fields was saddled with a toe injury for much of practice, opening up more reps for veterans Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond and untested sophomores Trayvon Mullen and K’Von Wallace.