Jeff Scott likes what he sees from young Clemson receivers
1. The quarterback battle will carry over into the season
Barring an injury, it appears that Kelly Bryant will start at quarterback when the Tigers host Kent State on Sept. 2, but Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper will likely get an opportunity in the opener as well. Bryant is the only one of Clemson’s three quarterbacks that has played in a game, and he hasn’t played much. While preseason practices are important and Bryant holds the nod right now, whichever quarterback performs the best during games early on in the year will be the one that holds the starting job throughout the season.
2. Clemson will be fine at running back
The Tigers must replace one of the most productive backs in school history in Georgia native Wayne Gallman, but running backs coach Tony Elliott has plenty of talent to work with. True freshman Travis Etienne appears destined to be a stud and has been singled out by coaches and players as a guy who keeps making plays. Tavien Feaster has shown flashes of being the All-ACC-type back he was brought in to be. And C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice aren’t flashy but are consistent and don’t make mistakes.
3. There shouldn’t be a drop off at receiver
Even without Mike Williams, the Tigers are still loaded at wide out. Coach Dabo Swinney recently said he believes all nine of Clemson’s scholarship receivers will have an opportunity to play in the NFL, and Swinney could be right. True freshmen Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins have come in and immediately made a name for themselves. T.J. Chase, Diondre Overton and Cornell Powell, players from the 2016 signing class, have each been singled out at different times by Swinney as guys who appear ready to make a jump. And Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow have all proven what they can do on the biggest stage in college football. Trevion Thompson is the veteran of the group and will be a reliable target for Clemson’s quarterbacks.
4. Clemson has tons of depth at linebacker
The Tigers lost their emotional leader on defense and a tackling machine in Ben Boulware, but this year’s linebacker group is deeper and could be the best Brent Venables has had to work with. Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph are back after being a big part of a defense that helped Clemson win the national title. Tre Lamar or Chad Smith will start at the other linebacker spot. Both arrived as highly rated players and have played well during the minimal playing time they have received. Clemson has several solid options as backups including Judah Davis, J.D. Davis, Jalen Williams and Shaq Smith. Clemson should be able to rotate its linebackers a good bit and keep guys fresh without there being much of a drop off.
5. There are still some questions to be answered
We already have learned a lot during fall camp, but there are still questions to be answered. Swinney believes he can win with all three of the quarterbacks battling for the starting job, but there’s a difference between playing well during a scrimmage in an empty stadium and playing well in front of 80,000 fans. The last time Bryant, Cooper and Johnson played in front of a crowd was during the spring game, and the three were less than stellar. Defensively, Clemson has depth concerns at defensive end. Clelin Ferrell should have a monster season and Austin Bryant will likely be the other starter, but after that, there are a bunch of players that have yet to do much in a college football game. Christian Wilkins can move outside if he needs to, but the Tigers would like to keep him paired inside with Dexter Lawrence. In the secondary, Clemson must replace its two leaders in safety Jadar Johnson and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley. There is plenty of talent ready to fill those spots, but consistency will be the key for the defensive backs.