Monday Morning Quarterback
In nine days, Clemson will begin spring practice.
This year, there is no quarterback controversy. Trevor Lawrence returns as perhaps the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy. So, there are no worries at quarterback.
The reigning ACC Player of the Year joins Lawrence in the backfield. Travis Etienne is coming off a record-setting season, one in which he crushed Clemson’s all-time rushing record, while tying the ACC record for touchdowns. Oh, by the way, he is a legit Heisman Trophy candidate, too.
No disrespect to Deandre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, but Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins return as perhaps the best pair of wide receivers in Clemson history. And if either one of those two goes off, or maybe both, then they could easily become Heisman Trophy candidates as well.
Oh, I forgot to mention, four seniors return on the offensive line. The same unit that did not give up a sack to Alabama in the national championship game.
At least from an offensive standpoint, the Tigers seem loaded to repeat as national champions.
However, there are some concerns on defense. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables must replace six starters from his front seven, including all four defensive linemen. He also lost defensive tackle Albert Huggins to eligibility.
The leadership Huggins and the other four—Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant—brought to the table must also be replaced as well and that will not be an easy task. It also does not help that the only two guys returning on the interior of the defensive line with experience—Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams—will miss the spring due to injury.
Clemson will miss Ferrell and Bryant on the outside, two defensive ends that have horrified quarterbacks the last two years. However, Xavier Thomas might end being the best pass rusher the Tigers have ever had, and redshirt freshman K.J. Henry was a top 10 recruit coming out of high school.
At linebacker, Venables has to replace Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar. However, Clemson is in better shape there. The Tigers are still deep at linebacker, in terms of depth, and Venables likes what he has in veterans James Skalski, Chad Smith and Shaq Smith when it comes to replacing Joseph and Lamar.
Strongside backer/nickel back Isaiah Simmons, might be the best football player on Clemson’s roster in 2019. He led the Tigers with 89 tackles last year and he decided to return to school for one more season, along with safeties Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace.
Clemson’s secondary should be its strong suit in 2019. It finally has depth at safety and A.J. Terrell is one of the best cornerbacks in the ACC. The Tigers do have to find a replacement for Trayvon Mullens, but they have a lot of good candidates, starting with Kyler McMichael, lining up to replace him.
On special teams, kicking field goals is going to be a concern. B.T. Potter will replace Greg Huegel, who finished his career as Clemson’s second all-time leading scorer. Potter definitely has the leg, but his accuracy is a concern heading into the spring.
Will Spiers is back to punt, but he will be challenged this spring by former IMG Academy punter Aidan Swanson, who enrolled at Clemson in January. He was the No. 4 punter in the country coming out of high school according to 247Sports.com.
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