Monday Morning Quarterback
Spring practice starts in two days for the Clemson Tigers and though they return 17 players who started at least six games in 2017 and 21 other lettermen who saw significant playing time, there are still some question marks for the three-time defending ACC Champions.
Some of these questions might get answered this spring, but more than likely they will not.
So here are five questions for the Tigers heading into spring practice.
Is there really a competition at quarterback?
If you are a Clemson fan, and I am assuming you are since you are reading this column, then the answer to this question is yes. However, does Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney really see it that way?
As we all know, Swinney has always been loyal to his senior players, especially those that are as experienced as quarterback Kelly Bryant is.
Swinney has good reason to be loyal to Bryant. After all, he did go 12-2 in his first year as a starting quarterback and guide Clemson back to the College Football Playoff.
Granted, Bryant’s numbers weren’t as flashy as some would have liked them to be, but he did win and in all but one game—against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl—he made the big plays when Clemson needed him to.
However, the three players he has behind him on the depth chart are not just any three players. Two are former 5-star recruits that came to Clemson as the best at their position, while the other is a former 4-star, who is a natural leader and winner as well.
Hunter Johnson, Trevor Lawrence and Chase Brice did not come to Clemson to hold the clipboard and signal in plays. They came to Clemson to compete and possibly win the job. They all want to, and believe they can, lead Clemson back to the national championship.
The question is will they get the opportunity to compete this spring?
Who will replace Cain and McCloud at wide receiver?
I think we have a pretty good idea on who the two No. 1 candidates are to replace Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud at wide receiver. Cain and McCloud both jetted for the NFL Draft after just one season as starters.
Their departures left voids at the field and boundary positions where five guys will more than likely battle for the starting spots.
Everyone believes, right now, Tee Higgins will replace Cain at the boundary, while Amari Rodgers will take over at the field position which was occupied by McCloud. If everything works out, I believe that is what will happen.
However, the competition will be real at wide receiver and guys such as Cornell Powell and T.J. Chase will get an opportunity to win the job at the field position, while Diondre Overton will get the same opportunity to beat Higgins for the boundary.
Who will be the new left and right guards on the O-Line?
Besides quarterback, this could be the best competitions of the spring. Clemson must replace All-ACC guards Taylor Hearn on the left side and Tyrone Crowder on the right.
John Simpson will be offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell’s first choice to replace Hearn at left guard where the sophomore has been Hearn’s backup the last two years.
On the right side, Caldwell said several of his young players will have a chance to play there, including Matt Bockhorst who was redshirted in 2017. During junior varsity drills in bowl practices, Bockhorst played both left and right guard.
Newcomer Jackson Carman, the No. 1 player coming out of the state of Ohio this year and one of the best overall players in the country, will also see work at right and left guard according to Caldwell.
Can Mullen be Clemson’s new shutdown corner?
Trayvon Mullen has all the tools to be one of the ACC’s best cornerbacks. At 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, he is one of the tallest cornerbacks in the country, and he has the speed to match it.
Mullen started in 12 of the 13 games he played in last season, while tying for the team lead with three interceptions. He was second to Ryan Carter’s 10 passes broken up with seven, while recording 42 tackles, which led all cornerbacks on the team.
Last year, Mullen played the field side mostly, but this season he will be cornerback coach Mike Reed’s first option to replace Carter as Clemson’s new shutdown cornerback.
Carter did a good job of shutting down some of the country’s best receivers last year and before him Cordrea Tankersley and Mackensie Alexander, now both are in the NFL, did the same.
Can Mullen be the next shutdown corner at Clemson? He has all the tools to become one.
Who will win the job at kicker?
This question never would have been asked heading into the last month of the 2017 season. After replacing Greg Huegel, who tore his ACL the Wednesday before the Boston College game in Week 4, Alex Spence struggled to make a kick, especially with kicks over 40 yards.
However, he finished the year by making 6 of his last 7 field goals, including three straight from 42-plus yards. He made a 46-yard field goal in the ACC Championship Game and then made kicks of 44 and 42 yards in the Sugar Bowl for Clemson’s only points of the game.
With Spence kicking with extreme confidence and Huegel, though considered one of the best kickers in the nation prior to the injury, coming off a serious knee injury, there is reason to believe this will be one of the best competitions of not only the spring, but possibly of fall camp as well.