Ideally Adam Humphries or Charone Peake, preparing for their fourth seasons at Clemson, would be the ringleaders of this eclectic bunch of receivers seeking to soften the transition after Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.
Sophomore Mike Williams wants a share of the responsibility. “I’ve been a leader since my freshman year in high school, so I kind of got that feeling of how to lead a group.”
With a new starting quarterback, Williams recognized the opportunity. His teammates and coach hope he can seize it.
As a freshman from the Orangeburg County village of Vance (population 208), he caught 20 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns last season. At 6-foot-3 and nearly 215 pounds, he’s taller than Watkins and at least as dynamic as Bryant on those fades and back-shoulder throws.
Williams tries to emulate Watkins. “I try to take every part of his game and put it with mine. As you know he’s a complete receiver,” he said, admitting to periodic lapses of seriousness. “It’s hard a little. It’s times when you want to play a little bit, and it’s times to be serious. You’ve got to pick the moments and go with it.”
Physically, coach Dabo Swinney compares him to another former Tigers receiver.
“He’s got the skill set of a Nuk Hopkins kind of a guy, he’s got the ball skills, but he still hasn’t quite got that killer instinct,” Swinney said. “Nuk attacked the ball. Mike wants to catch everything. He still doesn’t have that attack mentality like I want him to have.
“There’s no question he’s on the right track,” he said. “Mike’s much further along (than Hopkins). He’s a much better technical player as a freshman and physically better player as a freshman than Nuk was, but whether he’ll develop and work like Nuk did, that’s to be seen.”
As the days to the opening game sweat away, Swinney remains confident the offense can be at least as productive as it’s been the past three seasons with Williams, Humphries, Peake, Germone Hopper and the four freshmen. In the first stadium scrimmage, there were no turnovers, no dropped passes – “zero.” They’ll go again Saturday.
“Our offense, sometimes they get their noses bloodied a little bit, but they’re going against a really good group on the defensive side,” Swinney said. “You have to have that in perspective.”
Adding to the confidence has been the steady progress of quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson, who Swinney said were “great” in the first scrimmage. Stoudt wore a brace Monday to protect a knee bruised during the first drive of the scrimmage and insisted he was fine. Williams, he said, has accelerated his performances in practice and assumed a more prominent role as a leader.
“He’s picking it up,” Stoudt said. “We’ve been hooking up on some stuff, the chemistry is coming along.”
Williams hopes to become the next product of what they’re calling Wide Receiver U following the transition of Hopkins, Watkins and Bryant to the NFL. “It’s time to start the 2014 chapter,” he said, “and we’re going to try to write a good book for y’all.”