With camp now over, Clemson turns its attention to the 2019 regular season and in particular Georgia Tech.
The top-ranked Tigers will host the Yellow Jackets at Memorial Stadium in Clemson on Aug.29. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m., and the game will be televised on the new ACC Network.
What kind of football team should you expect to see from the Tigers in the season opener? Well, it is one that is stacked offensively.
As expected, Clemson’s offense had a very good camp. The offense won the majority of the battles in the scrimmages.
Head coach Dabo Swinney said quarterback Trevor Lawrence had a great camp, as did running back Travis Etienne. Both guys were named first-team preseason All-Americans by the Associated Press on Tuesday, along with linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
Clemson and Alabama were the only two teams to have three players selected to the first team. Left guard John Simpson and wide receiver Justyn Ross were named to the second-team offense.
A guy not mentioned on the AP preseason list was wide receiver Tee Higgins, who led the Tigers in receptions and touchdown receptions a year ago. He had a great camp, as well, and the coaches have spoken about how hungry is to show the college football world just how good he has become.
Let’s not forget about wide receiver Diondre Overton. He had a great summer and camp and is expected to start in the slot for the Tigers.
Oh, by the way, the group that had perhaps the best camp was the offensive line. Swinney, along with co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott praised this unit the entire camp.
Sean Pollard, who has now moved to center, had the best camp he has had in his four years at Clemson. Gage Cervenka, once a defensive tackle, has now solidified the right side of the line, along with Tremayne Anchrum at right tackle. Jackson Carman, though a sophomore, is set to fill in easily for the graduated Mitch Hyatt at left tackle. He had such a good camp, the offensive coaches don’t feel there will be much of a drop off, if at all, there.
The second-team offensive players have been just as impressive in camp. Freshman Joseph Ngata has been all the talk at wide receiver. He should see a lot of time at wide receiver against the Yellow Jackets.
The guy Swinney said was the most improved player on the entire roster is freshman tight end Jaelyn Lay. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound tight end has come along way since January when he arrived on campus and the coaches feel the game has really started to slow down for him. He will back up J.C. Chalk, who also had a good summer and camp, according to the coaches.
On the offensive line, redshirt sophomore Matt Bockhorst had a great camp and will be one of the first guys in the rotation up front. Swinney said the guard probably had the best camp of anyone on the O-line, and tackle Jordan McFadden was not far behind.
On the defense side, the first team is stacked.
Everyone is curious to what the defensive front will look like and from what we have heard from the coaches and players, it seems to be pretty formidable. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Swinney have not named starters, but they have said the defensive ends have five co-starters with Logan Rudolph and Just Foster leading the way, followed by Xavier Thomas and K.J Henry and Justin Mascoll. All five have been said to have had good camps and the competition has been really good with all five bringing something different to the table.
The defensive tackles seem to be a little more set with Jordan Williams and Nyles Pinckney set to get the start. Freshman Tyler Davis and junior Xavier Kelly will be the backups.
Kelly looks like a different player and the coaches feel his time has come. Davis has been the most consistent player from the spring, summer and camp among all the freshmen.
Simmons of course leads the linebackers on the strongside where he will be assisted by James Skalski in the middle and Chad Smith on the weakside. Like on the defensive line, experienced depth is a concern at the backer positions, though Mike Jones has improved a great deal and should be an exciting player to watch in the SAM/nickel back position.
Venables says he feels good about 15 players he believes are ready to play in the season opener.
The good news is five of those guys come in the secondary, which is led by corner A.J. Terrell and safeties Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace. Reserve safeties Nolan Turner and Denzel Johnson are also experienced players who have played in some meaningful situations.
Coming into camp, the Tigers were excited about Derion Kendrick playing opposite Terrell at cornerback, but the former wide receiver missed the majority of camp with a hamstring injury and the Tigers could go with freshman Sheridan Jones to start the Georgia Tech game. Jones had a very good camp according to Venables and really took advantage of his opportunity with Kendrick out.
Kendrick is getting healthier and will play against Tech, but the question is does cornerbacks coach Mike Reed feel is ready to start after missing so much time in camp. Mario Goodrich, LeAnthony Williams and freshman Andrew Booth will also see the field against Georgia Tech.
So, that is kind of an idea of where the Tigers are at heading into the season-opener. The good news is in eight days we will all get to see them for ourselves, and then we will have an idea of just how good they really are.
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