When Clemson hits the practice field Thursday to start fall camp, one of the main concerns for the coaching staff will be to find some new playmakers at wide receiver.
Last year’s star wideouts, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, will not be available. Higgins is now in the NFL, and Ross was lost for the season following spinal surgery in June.
Their absence means Clemson lost 38.3 percentage of its receptions, 46.9 percent of its receiving yards and 52.5 of its touchdown receptions from the 2019 team. Also, throw in the fact the Tigers have a new receivers’ coach in Tyler Grisham, and you can understand why the position is a concern.
However, things are not all that bad. The good news is the Tigers are loaded with talent at the position.
Freshmen E.J. Williams and Ajou Ajou will both be counted on a little more than expected this coming season as Clemson tries to find a replacement for Ross. The two will have to be ready to help add depth at the wide receiver position.
“We have a good group and we are excited about the group and then we have one more coming in, so it will put a lot on [Tyler] Grisham’s plate and my plate to make sure those guys are ready,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said recently. “We have Ajou Ajou showing up here this summer, who is another really great young talent. But with all of this, and a positive with this COVID situation, we have been able to have so much time from a football meeting standpoint that has been incredibly valuable to us. To be able to have the opportunity to go through our installation multiple times, to do individual stuff.
“The biggest thing with young players is knowledge, so to be able to have Ajou listening in those meetings and to have E.J. bridging the gap a little bit because he is the furthest away mentality from those other guys, that has been very helpful.”
Those other guys are Amari Rodgers, Cornell Powell, Joseph Ngata, Frank Ladson and Brannon Spector. Rodgers and Powell are both seniors that have played in a lot of games, while Ngata and Ladson are sophomores and Spector redshirted in 2019.
“We have a great group. Obviously, Frank Ladson and Ngata and Brannon Spector were three guys from last year’s class that we are really, really excited about,” Swinney said. “Joseph and Frank got some great experience [last year] and Brannon was able to redshirt. It was huge getting E.J. Williams some work [in the spring].”
Williams, who was Ross’ high school teammate in Phenix, Ala., enrolled at Clemson in January and did get some work in this past spring before the pandemic canceled everything on March 12. Williams was a consensus top 125 player in high school. He had 44 catches for 739 yards and 11 touchdowns during his senior season.
At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Williams has the same body type as Ladson. According to Swinney, he had a solid first spring and showed flashes of how good he can be with a couple of dynamic catches.
“Having E.J. in the spring was great for him. He is actually is very similar to Ross and maybe a little faster, but a very similar type of player in talent. We are really fortunate,” Swinney said. “We have some good guys and then obviously Amari and Cornell bring some great veteran leadership there and will be counted on in that way.”
Powell crossed trained in the spring at all three of the wide receiver positions. At 6-foot, 210 pounds, Powell has tremendous speed, plus brings in a ton of experience.
Last year, Powell caught 15 passes for 122 yards and scored two touchdowns. Swinney said Powell had the best spring of any wide receiver and led the unit in catches.
“You look at a guy like Cornell Powell, he was the most consistent guy this spring,” Swinney said. “It was awesome to see that. Hopefully, he is going to rise up and take advantage of this opportunity in a big way. We have a great group. That is what you have to do. You have to get the next guy ready and we are fortunate that we have multiple guys that can play multiple positions and be excited about the opportunity.”
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