Today marks the first day of spring practice as the reigning National Champion Clemson Tigers transition to the 2017 football season.
This year, the Tigers enter the spring with a lot of question marks, especially on offense where they must replace record-setting quarterback Deshaun Watson, one of the best running backs in school history in Wayne Gallman, perhaps the best tight end ever in Jordan Leggett, the all-time leading receiver in Artavis Scott and one of only two receivers in school history to top 1,000 yards in a season in Mike Williams.
Oh by the way, the Clemson coaches also have to replace two-time All-ACC center Jay Guillermo, the emotional leader of the defense in All-American linebacker Ben Boulware, All-American defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, All-ACC cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and All-ACC safety Jadar Johnson.
Obviously, those will be some big shoes to fill and should make for some interesting competition over the next 15 practices. Here are the five position battles you need to watch this spring.
Kelly Bryant will get the first-team snaps when the Tigers take the field this afternoon, but it does not mean he will be the No. 1 guy coming out of the spring? Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter feels Zerrick Cooper is right up there with Bryant and that freshman Hunter Johnson is a quick learner and by the end of the spring should be right in the middle of the quarterback race. It will be interesting to see who comes out of the spring as the Tigers’ leading candidate for the job.
Justin Falcinelli appears to be the No. 1 candidate to replace Guillermo, but how ready is he? The rising junior never played center before making the transition in 2015. Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell wants to see Falcinelli play the game. He says at times Falcinelli can overthink things too much. Redshirt sophomore Zach Giella will push Falcinelli for the starting job. Besides quarterback, this is the most important position on offense and definitely is one of the position battles you need to pay close attention too.
Like the quarterback position, there does not seem to be a clear favorite to win the job heading into the spring. Milan Richard seems to be the likely candidate, but has he improved as a blocker? He does run the best routes of the bunch, but Cannon Smith and Garrett Williams are the two most physical players in the unit. Then there is freshman J.C. Chalk and senior D.J. Greenlee, where do they fit in the mix? What about former wide receiver Shadell Bell? Is he ready to become a player in this position battle?
I think the coaches would love to see Tavien Feaster take control of this position battle, but right now running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott says the race is wide open and all three guys in the spring will have a chance to become the starter. C.J. Fuller, who finished the 2016 season No. 2 on the depth chart, does everything the best, especially when it comes to pass blocking. That is a very important element when evaluating the running back position in this offense. Feaster is the more talented player. He has the skills to be every bit as good as C.J. Spiller was, but he still has some areas he has to grow in as he continues to build his knowledge of the offense. Adam Choice has the skills to be as good or better than Fuller, but it seems as if he lost his confidence somewhat as he returned from a torn ACL. Can he get back to running the football like he did when he was a freshman in 2014 and trust his knee more?
Who will be the punter for the Tigers? When the season ended in Tampa, Fla., Hunter Renfrow was listed as the No. 2 punter on the depth chart. Renfrow has the skills to be a punter, but is that the direction the coaches want to go in? Freshman Will Spiers, the son of former Clemson punter and baseball great Bill Spiers, seems like the likely choice. Kicker Christian Groomes can also punt. Sophomores Michael Batson and Carson King will also be involved in the competition to replace Andy Teasdall.
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