Five topics that should fuel the spirit of Clemson fans through spring and deep into summer:
1 Replacing nine starters off a defense that led the nation in 11 categories might not be that daunting. There’s modest experience in the front seven, which lost at least four potential NFL draft picks, including consensus All-America Vic Beasley, linebacker Stephone Anthony and nose tackle Grady Jarrett. The strength should shift to the secondary, where corner Mackensie Alexander could be special and the safeties are long, athletic and nasty.
2 On paper, the offensive line is intriguing. Five returning own meaningful experience, including tackles Isaiah Battle and Joe Gore, whom Clemson needs to improve its sack count and efficiency in the red zone. A group of freshmen led by Mitch Hyatt that Dabo Swinney said could be “transformative” should have an immediate impact. Hyatt was one of 15 first-year players who enrolled in January. By August, they won’t be traditional freshmen.
3 There are more running backs than any Clemson team since the mid ’80s, more depth than ever at tight end. Two dynamic freshmen join the impressive receiver tandem of Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, who combined for nearly 2,000 yards last season.
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4 Sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson sustained three debilitating injuries within eight months, including a knee injury at Georgia Tech that required surgery. Swinney said they won’t baby him when he returns this summer, and though he won’t practice, Watson will have a role this spring as junior Nick Schussler and freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel battle for the backup job. Clemson can’t go through another season without a productive, confident backup.
5 Everybody will dissect the offense’s assistant coaches to see if there are appreciable changes with Tony Elliott, Jeff Scott and Brandon Streeter replacing offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who now is head coach at Southern Methodist. Elliott will call plays from the box level to Scott on the field while Streeter will be the quarterback whisperer. First reviews were positive with Streeter in a cameo at the bowl game. But Swinney expects to be a candidate for the CFB playoffs every year, which leaves no time for learning on the job.