When looking at the Clemson depth chart for Saturday’s Kent State game, which it released on Monday, two names not on it stick out the most … Xavier Kelly and Shaq Smith.
After being redshirted last year as freshmen, the two were expected to be a part of the defense in 2017, but with five days left until the fifth-ranked Tigers open the new year in Death Valley (noon on ESPN), the two are nowhere to be seen on the depth chart.
At defensive end, junior Chris Register is listed as Clelin Ferrell’s backup on the strong side of the defense, while freshmen Logan Rudolph and Justin Foster are listed as backups to Austin Bryant.
As for Smith, he suffered from a high-ankle sprain in practice and missed the last week of camp, according to head coach Dabo Swinney. However, the Clemson coach said he will play for the Tigers this year.
With Smith not on the depth chart, Jalen Smith is backing up Dorian O’Daniel at strongside backer, while James Skalski and J.D. Davis are listed as co-second-team guys behind Kendall Joseph on the weak side.
So where is Kelly? Swinney said he still had some work to do and he was not quite where they would like to see him. However, the thought is he will still play because he has been in the system for a year, plus the Tigers’ depth at defensive end is thin after Richard Yeargin was lost for the year with a neck injury following an off-season car wreck.
Seeing Kelly’s name absent from the depth chart could be a tell-tale sign of where the 6-foot-5, 264-pound defensive end is at in his progression.
“Xavier, when he was in high school, it was football, but it was more so like street-football,” Kelly’s teammate Clelin Ferrell said on Monday. “They would hike the football and he would go wherever the ball was. He did not really know anything about setting the edge or knowing any pass rush moves. He was just kind of running by guys and stuff like that.
“So it was really just learning the whole technique of things and actually learning the position. It’s kind of like him transitioning from linebacker to D-end.”
While Kelly is still trying to get the position down, Rudolph and Foster have both put themselves in position to play this year.
“It’s been crazy the amount of progress they have made,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell thought he was going to have to be hard on the freshmen because he knew the coaches were going to need them to play this year, but he says they have both made it easy for him.
“They really made it easy on me to give them knowledge because those guys understood the task at hand and they knew they would have the opportunity to play a lot,” the redshirt sophomore said. “They came in and just worked. They have been in my ear. They have been following me around, me and Austin, Christian, Dexter and those guys around, so it has been really good to see the amount of progress they made and I feel like they are going to have a lot of success in the future for sure.”
Ferrell also added that Register is playing at another level.
“He was a linebacker coming out of high school. It was tough on him at first as he tried to learn the position and everything that comes with it,” Ferrell said. “He has really honed in on it and I feel like he knows what to do and he can go out there and be a player for us this year.”
Other notables from the depth chart. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said they will not decide on who the starting right tackle will be for Saturday’s game until game day.
Sean Pollard and Treymayne Anchrum are both listed as co-starters on the depth chart.
He said they will let that battle play out through the week. He said both guys will play at lot and whoever runs out there first does not mean he is the starter for the season. They will also see how they do in the game.
Ryan Carter is starting at boundary corner, while Marcus Edmond is starting at field corner. Mark Fields is second team field, while Trayvon Mullen is second team at boundary corner. Freshman A.J. Terrell is listed as third-team boundary.
Carter is also listed as the starting nickel back with Isaiah Simmons and K’Von Wallace backing him up there.