CLEMSON — Sammy Watkins might — should — be better this season than this past year when he was the fourth freshman to be selected AP first-team All-America.
“Nobody’s really seen him yet,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said Tuesday. “He’s so much more mature as a player from last year, so much more understanding how the game works.”
Ordinarily this might be a week in which a Clemson fan might schedule a family reunion, wedding or one last trip to the beach, but after serving a two-game suspension for an offseason drug arrest, Watkins’ return for Saturday’s game against Furman makes it worth the price of admission.
There’s no reason to be frugal with Watkins, coach Dabo Swinney said.
“He needs to play a good bit,” Swinney said, “to get that good game under his belt like these guys have gotten.”
The first time Watkins touched the ball in a Clemson uniform — the second play from scrimmage of this past season — he scored a touchdown.
“I think you’ll see him pretty early,” Swinney said. “I don’t think it will take him long.”
Watkins’ first season included 82 catches for 1,219 yards (14.9 yard per catch) and 12 touchdowns, 231 rushing yards (7.1 yards per carry), 826 kickoff return yards (25.0) and a touchdown and 2,288 all-purpose yards (176.0 per game), fourth in the nation.
“He brings that home run threat every time he steps on the field,” senior center Dalton Freeman said. “Sammy has that SportsCenter Top 10 kind of mentality.”
One of the challenges Saturday will be Boyd’s ability to keep all his offensive skill players engaged. Clemson’s offense came off the blocks quickly with back-to-back 500-yard performances for the first time since 1980. Running back Andre Ellington rushed for 228 yards and DeAndre Hopkins caught a school-record 13 passes against Auburn. In beating Ball State, nine players were credited with rushes and 12 caught passes, including Hopkins, who scored three touchdowns.
“The key to us as an offense this year is not forcing things, kind of letting things come to us,” Boyd said. “Having a player like him out there is something else and you want to get him the ball, but not if it means forcing it.”
Clemson also is keeping an eye on preparing Watkins for its critical game against Florida State the following week.
“He will make us a lot more explosive,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “He has to get his work in (against Furman). We have to get him up to speed and get his timing right and those kinds of things.”
Boyd said Watkins hasn’t wasted his time or pouted during his suspension. Watkins worked with the scout team for a couple of weeks as Clemson prepared for Auburn, and he was on the sidelines last week for the Ball State game.
“He’s very mature and he understands why he hasn’t played,” Boyd said.
Swinney said he’s tried to ease the transition with a little levity.
“I told him yesterday,” Swinney said, “we’re 2-0 Sammy. Don’t mess it up.”