One year ago, Clemson faced a season with two returning starters on the offensive line and one on the defensive line. Somehow, it worked out.
Asked Thursday morning about the three players stacked at left tackle on the latest depth chart, coach Dabo Swinney smiled.
“I’m really OK with our (offensive line) not being settled right now because we’ve got a lot of competition,” Swinney said. “We didn’t have that this time last spring.”
With depth on both lines and a quarterback approaching his third season as a starter, Swinney heads into the summer hoping there won’t be bumps in the road to unsettle a potentially smooth ride to the opening game against Georgia.
“The biggest concern for probably every head coach going into summer is that when you have 115 17- to 22-year olds,” he said. “They have more free time.”
Swinney fielded questions about the depth chart, principally players at offensive left tackle, tight end, receiver and defensive end.
Atop the depth chart at left tackle, where he started last season, senior Brandon Thomas can play tackle or guard, left or right.
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now,” Swinney said of the depth chart. Thomas and right tackle Gifford Timothy “give us a lot of stability,” but redshirt sophomore Eric Mac Lain and sophomore Isaiah Battle are next at left tackle. Battle, particularly, has the talent to force a move.
Junior Sam Cooper, the most experienced tight end, sustained a torn ACL in the spring game, but sophomore Stanton Seckinger, freshman Jordan Leggett and redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCullough lack only experience.
“The big thing you lose with Coop is he’s a fourth-year vet. He’s crafty, battle-tested, smart,” Swinney said. “All three of those guys are very similar athletically. They all have the ability to catch the ball, run with the ball (and) make people miss.”
Seckinger, a wide receiver in high school, weighed 210 during spring drills. Swinney hopes to see him report at 230. “That kid is tough as nails,” he said. “He needs a little more mass to him … a little more meat in his pocket.”
Leggett, 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, enrolled in January and was the surprise of spring. “It’s uncanny to see a freshman grasp it the way he did.”
A year in Brent Venables’ defensive scheme resulted in dramatic improvement at the finish, particularly with a more productive pass rush led by end Vic Beasley, whom Swinney described as “our most dynamic guy purely going after the quarterback.”
Juniors Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes, bracketed as starters at the other end, are complimentary pieces with high upsides. Swinney said sophomore Kevin Dodd has made “amazing” progress behind Beasley.
A sustained pass rush might also work wonders for a secondary thinned last season by injury.
The corners are Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland on one side and Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins on the other. Clemson cannot afford a hit at safety, but Travis Blanks could be an all-star and Robert Smith has a high football IQ.