With Clemson’s fall camp coming to a close and the Tigers shifting their focus in preseason practice to the season opener against Kent State on Sept. 2, head coach Dabo Swinney was ready to announce redshirt decisions for the team’s true freshmen after practice on Monday.
Swinney ran through the list, naming the first-year players he expects to contribute this year, others he does not and a couple whose redshirt statuses are still up in the air.
“We’re still going to have a couple guys on the bubble,” Swinney said. “But we’ve got several that I think will play.”
Among the players who will avoid a redshirt, of course, is former five-star quarterback Hunter Johnson. Swinney said he will start the season as Clemson’s third-team quarterback behind junior Kelly Bryant, who he officially named the starter, and redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper. Swinney added that Chase Brice will redshirt.
Swinney also said freshmen receivers Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers will play this season, as expected. The fellow Tennessee natives, who each won two Mr. Football Awards in their respective high school classifications, have impressed the coaching staff in camp.
Running back Travis Etienne has turned heads with his play in camp, as well, and Swinney said he will suit up for the Tigers this season too.
Swinney said the Jennings, La., product is currently fourth on Clemson’s depth chart at running back behind the more experienced C.J. Fuller, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice. However, he said Etienne will have a “great opportunity” to show what he can do throughout the season.
“Fuller and Feaster and Choice are all right there, and they’re ready to go,” Swinney said. “They’re complete guys, and I think we can go win big with those guys. Travis is exciting because he runs like somebody’s trying to kidnap him from behind. Every time he gets the ball, he is just desperate. He’s so fast and has great vision, but he’s still got to put it all together.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Swinney said former five-star cornerback A.J. Terrell is ready to play, as was expected to be the case entering camp.
Swinney said defensive end Justin Foster will avoid a redshirt, as well. The staff ideally would like to hold him out this season, but the season-ending neck injury sustained by Richard Yeargin in a car accident over the summer has forced their hand.
“He’s probably not ready to play, but we really almost have to play him,” Swinney said of Foster. “We’ve got to get him ready as the season goes just because we have talent at that position, just not much experience without having to move Christian (Wilkins) out. Losing Yeargin was a big loss for us, so he’s a kid that if Yeargin was back, we’d probably be able to hold him.”
Clemson is pushing for defensive end Logan Rudolph to avoid a redshirt this season.
Swinney has said that Rudolph will need to undergo surgery on his shoulder at some point to remove a bone fragment, but the Tigers hope he will be available to provide depth.
“Right now we’re going to try to keep bringing him and see if he can go,” Swinney said. “I don’t know how he’ll hold up.”
Clemson is likely to redshirt defensive tackle Jordan Williams and cornerback LeAnthony Williams, Swinney said.
Williams is making the transition from defensive end to defensive tackle, the position he has played exclusively in camp, and a redshirt year would allow him to become more comfortable on the interior defensive line.
“We’ll probably hold him, but we’re really excited about Jordan,” Swinney said. “He’s playing a new position, so it’s a little bit of a transition for him, but man he’s going to be a good player.”
Williams, meanwhile, will likely sit out due to the depth Clemson has at the cornerback position.
“He’s going to be a great player. He just needs to get a little stronger, and we’ve got good depth right now at that position,” Swinney said. “Obviously got two seniors at that position as well, and we don’t want to waste a guy. If we’re going to play one, we want to have a chance to be able to get him the type of work where he can definitely improve.”
One player who remains on the bubble is freshman offensive tackle Blake Vinson.
“We’ll probably keep him with us for a little while,” Swinney said. “We’ve just got a lot of versatility in our line, guys that can move. But we’ll probably keep repping him a little bit and make a full-time decision… He’s one of those bubble guys that we probably won’t make a final decision on until a little bit later.”
Swinney said the other two freshmen offensive linemen, Matt Bockhorst and Noah DeHond, will redshirt.
While most of the redshirt decisions have been made as things stand now, Swinney threw in a disclaimer that those decisions are subject to change.
“It’s the first part of the season,” Swinney said. “You don’t know until you get in (to the season) and all of a sudden you have injuries and things like that, and all things are off.”
Swinney did not comment on freshman linebacker Baylon Spector.
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