Clemson football

Clemson must replace Boyd, Watkins, but has plenty of depth

Special to The StateDecember 21, 2013 

Clemson Football

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will say goodbye to record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd but has plenty of talent returning next season.

MARK CRAMMER — AP

— In an effort to move its stock of football swag last week, an Upstate retailer of all things Clemson offered 25 percent discounts on shirts bearing No. 10 and No. 2.

A wry Tweet announced that Ben Boulware and MacKensie Alexander jerseys were on sale.

In the natural cycle of college football, two of the most productive offensive players since orange became the new black are moving on after this season, leaving Clemson in better shape than when they arrived. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins cannot be replaced, at least initially, but never say never.

Beyond the two marquee starters, Clemson is sure to lose a left tackle, right guard, running back, a fullback/tight end, two linebackers, a corner and kicker. In raw numbers, they produced 78 percent of Clemson’s 6,024 yards during the regular season, and scored 56 percent of the 482 points.

Uncounted are the potential for injury, illness, transfer, academic and social casualty or — like Watkins — early migration to the NFL. Two, possibly three, juniors will soon decide whether to enter the 2014 draft. Yet, as Swinney prepared last week for a date with Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, one thing he knew absolutely was that next season’s team should again be formidable once it settles on a quarterback.

Clemson should have a deep core of experience on the offensive and defensive lines, tight end, at linebacker and in the secondary with promise at receiver, running back and quarterback.

Here’s an early look:

The loss of left tackle Brandon Thomas and right guard Ty Shatley to graduation and right tackle Giff Timothy should be cushioned by the return of five offensive linemen with starting experience: tackle Shaq Anthony (3 starts), tackle Isaiah Battle (3), guard David Beasley (19 over two seasons), guard Kalon Davis (6) and center Ryan Norton (12). In open competition during spring practice, no job may be safe with big dogs Reid Webster, Joe Gore, Spencer Region, Eric Mac Lain and Jay Guillermo running in the pack with puppies Maverick Morris and Tyrone Crowder in the chase.

Noticeable has been Clemson’s ability to recruit and develop tight ends. Sam Cooper, Stanton Seckinger, Jordan Leggett and Jay Jay McCullough each have skills useful in Chad Morris’ scheme.

Rod McDowell silenced skeptics with 956 rushing yards, but Boyd was Clemson’s next most productive runner. D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson need immediate assistance. Wayne Gallman impressed Swinney during a scrimmage last week, but the biggest prize could be the return of Tyshon Dye from an injury sustained in August. Also in the mix could be incoming freshman Jae’lon Oglesby (another product of the Daniel High pipeline).

Losing players the caliber of Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of back-to-back NFL drafts would gut most rosters, but Clemson could respectable if Martavis Bryant declines to make the early leap and Charone Peake returns fully recovered from a season-ending knee injury. Dependable Adam Humphries, speedy Germone Hopper, promising freshmen Mike Williams and T.J. Green are eventual showcase talents. Three receivers are expected to enroll in January to compete for the hole created by Watkins.

Boyd broke most every record set by his immediate predecessors, so the bar is higher than ever for backup Cole Stoudt, who should be the frontrunner entering spring, though not without a fight from Chad Kelly. With five-star prospect Deshaun Watson in the mix after enrolling in January, this could be the deepest Clemson has been at quarterback.

Until the wrinkles are smoothed on offense, a richly experienced defense could set the tone. In losing linebackers Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey and corner Darius Robinson, defense takes a hit in leadership.

Even if end Vic Beasley chooses the seduction of an early pro career over his senior season, the defensive front should be stout with tackles Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams, Josh Watson, D.J. Reader, Carlos Watkins, Kevin Dodd and Scott Pagano; ends Corey Crawford, Tavaris Barnes, Shaq Lawson and Martin Aiken.

The result of a stout linebacker class in 2011 should be evident with Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward and B.J. Goodson. Former transfer Kellen Jones and rising sophomore Boulware — who, like Boyd, wears the number 10 — should be the nucleus with six freshmen or redshirt freshmen entering the fray. Anthony, a junior, led the team in tackles and was second to Beasley in tackles for loss and was considering his options after the bowl game.

After building the depth with nine defensive backs in this year’s freshman class, Clemson has starting experience in four corners and three safeties. The best news would be medical clearance for corner Alexander — wearer of Watkins’ No. 2 on defense — who had surgery for a groin injury and missed the season.

Punter Bradley Pinion averaged a net 37.7 yards and should again handle kickoffs. Ammon Lakip should replace kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who ends his career as Clemson’s most prolific scorer, the No. 2 scorer in ACC history.

Swinney believes his staff met its immediate needs with each of its past four classes and was optimistic about the next. Clemson’s current class of 17 commitments was ranked 14th nationally by ESPN. Though he would not be pinned down on how many Clemson might sign, if he stopped now Swinney would be pleased.

“There’s just too many moving parts to say, ‘Boom, this is what we’ve got right now, here’s a guy, I’ve got my number,’ ” Swinney said. “We’ve got to see what happens with a couple of our junior guys.

“It’s a fluid situation,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got a great class. Hopefully, we’ll be able to finish out strong.”

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