If the first three days of fall camp are an indication, Dabo Swinney is making his point clear … the 2017 football season is not about the guys who are no longer at Clemson, but it’s more about those that are here.
Swinney, along with co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, have made it a point to talk about the Tigers’ depth. Scott has gone as far to say it is the best they have had since he has been at Clemson, and that’s going back to his playing days.
Thanks to one stellar recruiting class after another, the Tigers’ third-team units are just as talented, and these days, the third-team is like the first- and second-team units, moving in and out of reps all day, including the freshmen.
“We have a lot of freshmen repping,” Scott said. “They are getting a lot of reps. They’re getting thrown in there and guys are responding the right way.”
Granted, it’s not easy having to replace Superstars like Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, Ben Boulware and Carlos Watkins, but Swinney has been impressed with the overall attitude of his team and how they have come into camp with a lot of energy and intensity. He said through the first three practices, this year’s team has more of both than last year’s national championship team had.
“Last year we were a really, really young team,” Swinney said. “We were mostly freshmen and sophomores. This year we have a lot of sophomores and juniors and they are just a little older.”
“That means we have really good depth, which is something I anticipate, and I hope that we can have just great functional depth on both sides to where we can play a lot of people,” he continued. “I’m very encouraged by everything I have seen.”
We know who is gone, so who is on campus at Clemson that has Swinney and the coaches so excited about the prospects of 2017?
Obviously, it’s starts on the defensive side of the ball where the Tigers return seven starters from last year’s unit. Clemson was good last year, but there is a good chance they can be even better this year.
It helps to have a defensive front that is loaded with talent with defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence returning in the middle and Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant returning at defensive end.
Swinney believes this is the best collection of linebackers he has ever had, which is led by the return of starters Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel paired up with rising stars in Tre Lamar, Chad Smith, Shaq Smith, Jalen Williams and James Skalski.
The secondary is deep and talented too. Safety Van Davis returns along with veteran corners Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond, but it’s the emergence of future superstars Tanner Muse, Isaiah Simmons, K’Von Wallace, Trayvon Mullen and Mark Fields that have the coaches really excited about what this group can do.
There are more questions on offense and it starts with the quarterback position, but Swinney, along with Elliott and Scott, like what they have in Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper. They feel confident that anyone of the three can come in and lead the offense and be very productive in doing so.
The same can be said at running back where it to is a three-man race between C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster. The coaches have raved about the physical shape all three guys have come into camp with.
Deon Cain is ready to explode as the Tigers’ next big playmaker at wide receiver, but freshman Tee Higgins has come into camp and is pushing the veteran. Fellow freshman Amari Rodgers has been all the talk early on as he has taken advantage of his opportunities with Ray-Ray McCloud and Cornell Powell shaken up and has put himself in position to see some playing time.
Hunter Renfrow is going to be Hunter Renfrow, while Trevion Thompson seems ready to step up and have a good year, along with Diondre Overton and T.J. Chase.
At tight end Milan Richard seems to have the edge, but tight ends coach Danny Pearman says the competition is great at the position and he can see Cannon Smith or D.J. Greenlee moving up and grabbing it from Richard if the junior slips. Also, let’s not forget about J.C. Chalk, who seems poised to come in and take the place of injured tight end / fullback Garrett Williams (ACL), who the coaches are optimistic will return at some point this season.
Then there is the offensive line, which returns four starters in Mitch Hyatt, Tyrone Crowder, Taylor Hearn and Sean Pollard. The depth of the offensive line seems to be the deepest and the most talented Clemson has had under Swinney’s direction.
“This time last year, John Simpson, (Sean) Pollard and (Tremayne) Anchrum were just true freshmen running around out there. Now we have ten guys repping up front that all have experience and knowledge.”
The offensive line kind of sums up Clemson’s entire roster, it has experience and knowledge all throughout, with a lot of talent sprinkled on top. No wonder Swinney isn’t worried about the guys who have left.
Have you ordered the 2017 Clemson season preview ‘Best is the Standard’ from the staff that covers Clemson football 365 days a year? Order yours today to make sure you get a copy!