CLEMSON — Back to basics, even with a veteran team, can be a challenge, particularly with Clemson coaches trying to make sure all the pieces are in the right slots.
Even great dancers need an occasional refresher, so offensive coordinator Chad Morris wasn’t critical of the energy though his quarterbacks’ footwork was “sloppy” on the second day of spring practice.
Among Morris’ challenges are finding the production lost with DeAndre Hopkins’ decision to take his 82 catches and 18 touchdowns to the NFL a year early and replacing center Dalton Freeman, tight end Brandon Ford and running back Andre Ellington.
If there was any lingering skepticism, Morris believes it was answered in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Now, he can command their attention.
“The spring isn’t about being comfortable,” he said Friday. “Being comfortable is going and sitting on your couch.”
Beginning a second round of spring drills at Clemson, defensive coordinator Brent Venables seemed relaxed and confident. Coach Dabo Swinney believes the defensive front seven can be one of this team’s strengths and Venables concurred, with a caveat.
“Do we have any difference makers? We have to find out,” he said. Entering the season, Venables wasn’t convinced he had that kind of player on the roster.
“At the first of the year, we didn’t put much pressure on the quarterback. We weren’t beating guys one-one-one,” he said. “
You saw in the LSU game where they were behind the chains on second down because of our guys beating their guys on first and 10. We need to see that develop in the spring. Will we? That remains to be seen. Do we need it? Yeah, we do.”
“I think we’ve got good enough guys. I am hopeful that will develop.”
A rich vein of talent runs through the middle of the defense at linebacker, where Venables said he was “trying to find out who are starters are.”
“I really like this group of guys,” he said. “We have a lot of chemistry and experience and intelligence with the group.
“We have guys that can hit and like to compete. We are just moving some guys around and trying to experiment to see if we can add additional depth.”
Spencer Shuey emerged at middle linebacker last season, but Stephone Anthony has layered on additional muscle and reported to camp at 246 pounds. Shuey and B.J. Goodson give Venables a number of options in the middle, but Anthony’s emergence could be huge for Clemson.
“He is the prototypical middle linebacker,” Venables said of Anthony. “I think that’s a good position for him.”
Outside returning starter Quandon Christian, highly regarded Tony Steward, transfer Kellen Jones and T.J. Burrell are the principle options.
Johnson, who followed Venables from Oklahoma, developed a reputation as a disruptive force last fall on the scout team.
“When he gets in there, he is very disruptive and very instinctive and plays super fast,” Venables said. “He amps things up, and he is a very hungry and emotional guy.”
“It’s a good corps at outside backer.
“We’re just trying to find out who our starters are and trying to get that solidified.”