When the Clemson football team returns for spring practice a week from today, they will have seven practices remaining, including the annual Orange & White Spring Game in Death Valley on April 8.
So what have we learned through the first eight practices this spring?
At quarterback, Kelly Bryant is still the No. 1 guy, but co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott have indicated the gap is closing. But at this point, Bryant has done nothing to lose the job. Through all accounts, Bryant has been consistent in every practice and has very good command of the offense.
The coaches like what they are seeing out of Zerrick Cooper so far as well. He still has some things to work on, but he has been consistent. Hunter Johnson has made strides, but right now he is still limited in what he can do because he is learning the offense.
At running back, the competition appears to be even tighter. Though Tavien Feaster has made strides this spring when it comes to his pass protection, Elliott would still like to see the sophomore be a little more consistent.
It is still a long way to go before Elliott has to make a decision, but right now C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice still seem to be just a step ahead of Feaster.
Milan Richard seems to be the frontrunner at tight end. Head coach Dabo Swinney along with Scott and Elliott has been impressed with the redshirt junior thus far. Swinney has even said the light bulb has come on from all accounts. He is moving faster, making plays, running better routes and overall has been more consistent than the others.
Clemson’s three wide receivers to this point are no surprise. Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud appear to have a lock on their positions. McCloud is having the best spring of anyone so far. He has embraced his role as a starter and according to the coaches is having his best set of practices since he has been here.
Though those three seem to be holding onto their spots, it doesn’t mean the other guys are not being productive. Cornell Powell has had seven very good practices while cross training at all the positions. Swinney and Scott have both said they will find a way to get him on the field this fall.
Trevion Thompson also had a good first half of spring. He has shown no issues, we are told, with his injured wrist and has been making plays. The coaches really like the way he has come on this spring and how he has not used the wrist injury as an excuse. Scott said he is catching the ball and playing the ball like his wrist is 100 percent. He said that is not always the case for some guys who coming off that type of injury.
Justin Falcinelli is having a really good spring at center. Like the quarterbacks, he has one of the toughest jobs in replacing Jay Guillermo, who has been a First-Team All-ACC center the last two years. His snaps have been clean and he has been solid with his decision making. The game is slowing down for him and his reads seem to be well when it comes to making the line calls and getting his fellow linemen set at a good pace.
On the defensive side, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Venables said nothing has really changed with his linebackers. Kendall Joseph still seems to be the man in the middle with Dorian O’Daniel managing the strong side. On the weak side Shaq Smith seems to be the leader to replace Boulware. If you are wondering about Tre Lamar, he has said he is getting most of his reps at middle linebacker and he fills in at first-team when Joseph slides over and works at weakside. Venables said he is cross training a lot of his guy at all three positions this spring.
As for the defensive line, the personnel remains the same, and as expected they have been very dominant. The players have said they really like new defensive line coach Todd Bates. Obviously, his coaching style is different from that of Dan Brooks’ and Marion Hobby’s, but they like it.
The secondary has been something to watch where there is a lot of competition. Van Smith is at strong safety now, his natural position, while Tanner Muse seems to be the guy at free safety. Isaiah Simmons is coming along nicely, while Korrin Wiggins, Denzel Johnson and Nolan Turner are also working at safety.
Ryan Carter appears to be the starter on the boundary side at cornerback. Trayvon Mullen is behind him there as is K’Von Wallace, who the coaching staff has been working primarily at corner this spring. The coaches feel with him playing exclusively at corner it will help him get a better understanding of his technique and what he needs to do over there.
Venables said Wallace, like Carter, can play any position on the back end, whether it is corner, safety or the nickel position.
As for the other side of the field, Marcus Edmond and Mark Fields are working the field side in what seems to be a pretty intense competition.
Then there is the punting position. Swinney says no one has earned his trust just yet, but he likes the way Will Spiers, Michael Batson and Carson King are competing. The punting competition will probably go into the summer and fall camp before he makes a decision on a starter.
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