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Clemson wraps up fall camp. Here are 9 things we learned

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Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney speaks Wednesday, July 17, at ACC Kickoff media event in Charlotte about the upcoming season and the Tigers' opponents.
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Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney speaks Wednesday, July 17, at ACC Kickoff media event in Charlotte about the upcoming season and the Tigers' opponents.

Clemson wrapped up fall camp this week and turns its attention to Georgia Tech as the Tigers prepare to face the Yellow Jackets in the season opener on Aug. 29.

The defending national champion Tigers are ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll entering the 2019 season, despite losing several starters off of last year’s team.

There are plenty of returning players moving into larger roles, while several newcomers will be counted on to step up as Clemson tries to defend its title. Here are nine things we learned from camp:

1. Joseph Ngata is a future star

The freshman from California was the talk of fall camp and was constantly praised by Clemson’s coaching staff. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said he has never had a player work harder than Ngata, who is already repping at both outside receiver spots. Clemson has tons of talent at receiver, including preseason All-ACC selections Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. But Ngata will play early and often and could establish himself as a top three receiver on the team by the end of the year.

2. Xavier Thomas is a work in progress

Sophomore defensive end Xavier Thomas enters the season with monster expectations. Thomas is on several preseason All-American teams, including ESPN. But Thomas has also never started a college game. While Thomas is viewed by many as a top defensive end nationally, he might not even open the season as a top two defensive end on Clemson’s team. Justin Foster, Logan Rudolph and Thomas are battling for the two starting spots at defensive end, and Swinney has said all three players are even at this point. Thomas could live up to his huge expectations this year, but to do that he needs to continue to develop as an all-around defensive end and not just be someone who can get after the quarterback.

3. AJ Terrell is a lockdown corner

Between injuries to Derion Kendrick and Mario Goodrich during fall camp and Kyler McMichael transferring this summer, Clemson’s cornerback depth is a bit shaky entering the season. The good news for the Tigers is they have a lockdown player on one side of the field. Terrell had a pick-six against Alabama in last year’s national title game and has picked up where he left off entering 2019. Terrell was praised throughout camp and should establish himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the country this season. Terrell battles against Ross, Higgins and Clemson’s other receivers every day in practice and more than holds his own. He should have a productive year and has a chance to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

4. Tyler Davis is already one of Clemson’s best DTs

Davis was arguably the most talked about player during the spring, quickly showing that he can help the Tigers as a true freshman. Swinney continued to praise Davis during fall camp, stating that “he’s as good as we’ve got” as far as defensive tackles. Older players Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams will likely be Clemson’s starters at defensive tackle, but Davis isn’t far behind and could play starter reps.

5. Andrew Booth is as advertised

Booth didn’t arrive on campus until this summer but he quickly proved that he is one of the better cornerbacks on Clemson’s roster. Booth, a former five-star recruit is long and physical and has been described as a pro with the way he puts in work and goes about his business. He is advanced technically and physically and should be a big part of Clemson’s cornerback rotation throughout the year.

6. JC Chalk is ready to be a starting TE

Chalk wasn’t ready to be a starter at the end of the spring, but he is now. Chalk lost 15 pounds over the summer and has embraced his role as the leader of the tight ends room. He is faster, has better stamina, has better hands and appears to be far and away Clemson’s best option at tight end entering the season.

7. The offensive line should have a great year

Clemson starts four seniors up front and has a chance to have the best offensive line in school history. The Tigers have plenty of talent at skill positions, but as Swinney has said time and time again, it all starts with the offensive line. Seniors John Simpson, Sean Pollard, Gage Cervenka and Tremayne Anchrum all have a ton of experience, and sophomore Jackson Carman has been one of the best performers during fall camp. Clemson could have the best offense in the country this season, and if so, the offensive line will be a big reason why.

8. Trevor Lawrence has gotten even better

It is hard to imagine Lawrence being much better than he was as a freshman, but the Georgia native has improved by all accounts. Lawrence understands the offense completely now and can read defenses better than he could in 2018. He also worked hard on his deep ball and at improving his footwork during the offseason. He has a real shot at becoming the first Heisman winner in Clemson history this season.

9. Travis Etienne, Lyn-J Dixon should provide a nice 1-2 punch

The loss of Tavien Feaster is a big one, but Etienne and Dixon should combine to have a special season in 2019. Etienne has already shown that he is arguably the best running back in the country, setting a Clemson record for rushing yards in a season last year with 1,658 yards. As good as Etienne was, Dixon was actually better in terms of yards per carry, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt compared to Etienne’s 8.1. With an increased workload in 2019, Dixon should join Etienne in being a star on Clemson’s offense this season. The coaching staff has said Dixon impressed during fall camp and is ready to take the next step.

Matt Connolly is the Clemson beat writer and covers recruiting and college sports for The State newspaper and The State.com
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