Ultimately, it’s in Charone Peake’s hands.
“I have a routine where I catch about a hundred balls after practice,” he said, “just getting my hands stronger any way I can.”
A long, sleek sophomore, Peake offered a reassuring glimpse Saturday at his progress and at the growing possibilities in Clemson’s offense with or without Sammy Watkins.
Peake, who caught four passes in 14 games a year ago, caught three during the team’s first preseason scrimmage in Death Valley, two for touchdowns.
Watkins, arrested in May for possession of marijuana and a controlled substance, will not play the first two games as part of coach Dabo Swinney’s discipline, so Peake’s progress along with that of the other offensive skill pieces in Clemson’s immediate plans will be scrutinized in the days leading to Clemson’s opening game Sept. 1 in Atlanta with Auburn.
Not to worry, said quarterback Tajh Boyd, who gushes when he asked about Clemson’s bounty at receiver, which a blogger on ESPN.com ranked No. 4 in the nation.
“When one guy comes out, the guys that come in are just as fast, just as good,” Boyd said. “The hard part about it is making sure everybody’s happy.
“That’s a good problem to have.”
Gone are Dwayne Allen, the Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end, and sprinter Joe Craig, the fastest player a year ago. But junior Nuke Hopkins caught 72 passes for 978 yards and senior Jaron Brown was the No. 4 receiver with 31 catches. Others, including Peake, have yet to blossom.
“We have eight guys that can do anything they want on the field,” he said.
Peake and classmate Martavis Bryant were ranked higher than Watkins by ESPN.com out of high school.
“Martavis will be able to help us in the passing game, stretching the defense,” Boyd said. “If you have all the guys in a foot race, there’s not that much difference.”
Peake predicted that former Dorman teammate Adam Humphries will build on last year’s foundation. Clemson coaches had hoped to redshirt Humphries, but his versatility, skill and intelligence forced their hands.
“He was underrated coming out of high school, but people are going to see how really good he is,” Peake said. “You saw a little bit of it last year, but you’re going to see a lot of it this year.”
Also critical to the pass game are running back Andre Ellington, who has worked to improve his receiving skills, and tight end Brandon Ford, who can stretch a defense. Redshirt freshman Stanton Seckinger, who has among the team’s best set of hands, caught three passes Saturday.
Boyd said he can’t imagine another team having comparable depth at receiver.
“For (Peake), it’s all about opportunity,” Boyd said. “If he’s going to have an opportunity, he’s going to take advantage of it and make the most out of the opportunity.
“It is fun working with a guy like that,” he said. “You can see the maturation of all those guys right now.”
Peake admitted his confidence lagged last season.
“But if you’ve got your confidence, you can do whatever you want to do in life,” Peake said.