Clemson begins spring practice on Feb. 27
With recruiting season now over, Clemson’s coaching staff can finally turn the page and focus on the 2019 football roster. They’ll have the next three weeks to get prepared as the Tigers begin spring practice on Feb. 27.
“We are going to find out,” head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Swinney and his coaches are going to find out who will step up and be Clemson’s leaders as they begin their quest to become the first back-to-back national champions in ACC history.
The Tigers have plenty of options on offense. The offensive line returns four senior starters in left guard John Simpson, center Gage Cervenka, right guard Sean Pollard and right tackle Tremayne Anchrum.
In the backfield there is quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster, while at wide receiver there is Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers and Justyn Ross.
The main concern for Clemson’s offensive coaches is at tight end where they lose seniors Milan Richard and Cannon Smith, and more than likely redshirt junior Garrett Williams as well. Swinney said Williams, who has already graduated, is leaning towards leaving to join the military.
Williams has not made his decision yet and Clemson is holding his scholarship, but Swinney believes Williams will leave the team in the end.
That leaves Clemson in a unique situation due to the suspension of tight end Braden Galloway, who was suspended in December by the NCAA, along with offensive lineman Zach Giella, after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. The two can still practice with the team, according to Swinney, but they are not eligible to play in a game.
Clemson asked for an extension on the appeal process and was granted such. It will have 45 days to build its case. But right now, neither player is eligible to play until the bowl season.
That leaves J.C. Chalk, a rising junior, as the most experienced tight end that is definitely returning. Chalk played in all 15 games last year, mostly on special teams and heavy run packages. He caught two passes for 21 yards.
For his career, Chalk has played in 24 games, and has four receptions for 40 yards.
“I think offensively we have a lot of answers, and obviously, Trevor coming back and Chase (Brice). Both are proven leaders, committed guys and have great respect by their teammates,” Swinney said.
Defensively, Swinney feels like they have a lot of talent and leadership, but a lot of it is unproven, especially up front on the defensive line.
Not only will the Tigers be replacing their top five players—Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and Albert Huggins—but this spring they will also be without tackles Nyles Pinckney (pec muscles) and Jordan Williams (knee) due to injuries.
“Up front, who is it? Right now, we are rolling freshman out there,” Swinney said. “Xavier Kelly, he is a sophomore, but everybody else is a freshman so we will see how it all shakes out.”
At linebacker, Clemson returns experience players in James Skalski and Isaiah Simmons. Skalski redshirted last year due to an injury in preseason camp, but he played in the post-season for the Tigers thanks to the new redshirt rules.
Simmons, of course, started every game last year at the nickel/Sam position, where he shined in his first year at that position. He led the team with 89 tackles. He also had 9 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, broke up six passes and had one interception which he returned for a touchdown.
“I think Isaiah is ready to take on the role (of being a leader) a little bit,” Swinney said. “That is one reason why he came back. He needs a different role on this team. That is something we are expecting from him.”
The coaches feel good about the secondary, where A.J. Terrell returns at corner and K’Von Wallace, Tanner Muse, Nolan Turner and Denzel Johnson are all back at the safety positions.
“A.J., he will be the dog, man! He will be an unbelievable leader on that back end,” Swinney said. “All four of those safeties … K’Von in the maturity I have seen in him, Muse, Nolan and then Denzel, what a group.
“They are grown men, now. They have been through the fires and they know what the expectation is, but we will see.”
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