By Keith McGonigle.
The Tigers hit the practice fields in just over two weeks. Which players will have a big impact on the results for the Tigers in 2011? TheClemsonInsider.com looks at ten players that will make a major impact in 2011:
1.QB Tajh Boyd – The player with the most attention and pressure this season will be Boyd. With the influx of talent on the offensive side of the ball and an exciting new system, Tiger fans are expecting a lot from the offense. Much of that pressure will rest squarely on Boyd, who many forget has yet to start a game for the Tigers. The quarterback position always has a lot of pressure but Chad Morris was able to transform QB G.J Kinne (who threw for 3650 yards and 31 touchdowns at Tulsa) into one of the best passers in the country. Many believe that Boyd, who was considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school, should have no trouble replicating Kinne’s production. The one thing that is certain is the Tigers will go as far as Boyd can take them.
2. DT Brandon Thompson- Thompson may be the most important player on the Tigers defense this year. The 6’2” 310 lbs. lineman is going to be asked to do a lot this season for the Tigers. The defensive scheme will be a little different this year as Coach Steele will be running both three and four man fronts. Thompson’s role is even more crucial after the loss of Jarvis Jenkins and the lack of depth at defensive tackle. Thompson will have to play a big role in clogging up the middle especially when Clemson faces three of the best rushing attacks in the country this season – Georgia Tech, Auburn and Virginia Tech.
3. DeAndre Hopkins – There is no doubt Hopkins has the talent to become one of the top receivers in the NCAA. It is clear he will no longer be the under-the-radar receiver again this year. The one thing that worries me is the amount of pressure that people are putting on the true sophomore. Hopkins is expected to be the leader and top target of a very young and inexperienced receiving core. If Hopkins experiences a sophomore-slump the Tigers would be in a lot of trouble. They really need Hopkins to be the go to receiver and help take the pressure off of Boyd and the other young players.
4. RB Andre Ellington – If Ellington can stay healthy this season I think he will have no problem becoming one of the best backs in the country. It’s great that Clemson has the depth to use multiple running backs but I would like to see Ellington be the feature back and get the ball 20-25 times a game. With the new fast paced offense we will most likely see less subs and more plays so hopefully that means Ellington with the ball in his hands a lot.
5. S Rashard Hall – Clemson’s secondary has been pretty good at preventing the big plays over the past few seasons. Last year, however, there were a few occasions that the secondary was burned for big plays that really cost them (Auburn 78-yard touchdown pass, Miami 65-yard touchdown pass, BC 36-yards touchdown pass). Many of those plays seemed to be because of miscommunication or mental mistakes. Hall will be the most seasoned veteran in the secondary this year and he and the other defensive backs really need to avoid these costly mistakes. The Tigers need Hall to become a leader and even more of an impact player this season especially after the loss of S DeAndre McDaniels.
6. DE Andre Branch – It’s not going to be easy replacing the production of the best defensive end in college football last year. But many believe that Branch has the potential to step into the huge void left by Da’Quan Bowers. Branch is already being touted as a first round draft pick by experts; let’s hope that the 6’5” 260 lbs. lineman can continue to the tradition of great defensive ends at Clemson.
7. OT Phillip Price – Considering that the Tigers are one injury away from starting a true freshman at quarterback, Price’s importance to the Tigers is huge. Price has the job of protecting blindside of Tajh Boyd this season. With a very experienced offensive line behind him, I am sure the former tight-end walk-on, and fifth year senior will have no trouble fitting right in. After all he has been going up against some of the best defensive ends in the country at practice the last four years.
8. TE Dewayne Allen – Everyone has been waiting for the breakout season for Allen, who may have had one last year if Clemson’s quarterback play was a little more consistent. I think the new offense will really help Allen’s game. The one things Allen needs to become better at is being a threat in the red zone, the 6’4” 255 lbs. tight end only scored one touchdown last year. The talented junior should find more openings in the middle of the field this year though, as much of the defenses attention will be paid to the fakes and jet sweeps that Coach Morris will employ.
9. RB Mike Bellamy – Obviously no one is quite sure what kind of impact Bellamy can have in his freshman season, but the one place I think he could make a big difference is special teams. It was a huge drop off losing C.J. Spiller in the return game last year. If Bellamy could bring the same home-run ability and excitement to special teams this year as Spiller was able to bring in his four seasons at Clemson, that would be a huge help and a lot of fun to watch.
10. Freshman linebacker – Whether its Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward, Lateek Townsend, Colton Walls or B.J. Goodson, Clemson needs one or multiple young linebackers to step up. Steele will be using plenty of linebackers on the field at once this year so it’s not really a question of if some freshman will play it’s a question of who will play. Anthony (6’3” 220 lbs) and Steward (6’2” 225 lbs.) may be the best candidates as both already look the part physically and are known for their playmaking abilities.