When he was asked prior to the start of last season which player he thought could have a breakout season, Dabo Swinney did not hesitate to answer it. The Clemson head coach thought wide receiver Joseph Ngata was positioned to have a big season.
However, it never came to fruition.
Ngata suffered an abdomen injury in the season opener against Wake Forest and never truly recovered. After rolling in and out of the lineup all season, with very little production because of the injury, Ngata had surgery near the end of the season and was shut down for the rest of the year.
It was a tough time for the Tigers because they were also without Justyn Ross for the entire year and Frank Ladson was having foot issues that forced him to miss a few games.
“For us, it was difficult because you look over and you see those triple towers over there standing on the sideline. You are like, ‘What if?’ But at the end of the day, you can’t go ‘what if.’ It is next man up,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
Cornell Powell stepped up and had an All-ACC season for the Tigers and has positioned himself as a possible mid-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft in April. Freshman E.J. Williams also stepped up and by the end of the year became a playmaker for the Tigers.
But Ladson and Ngata are back to full strength, and as Elliott said after Wednesday’s practice, Ngata appears to be back to his old self.
“For Joe, I know it has been tough because he has been battling through some nagging (injuries),” the Clemson coach said. “But he looks like he is in a good place mentally, and physically he looks good. Now, he just has to continue to push and get his conditioning back and get all of his timing back, but so far he has looked pretty good.”
As Elliott said, right now the coaches are just looking for Ngata to continue to compete and get better as he goes along this spring.
“So far, in the time that we have been together and do the competitive stuff against the defense, he has looked good. I can’t tell any difference,” Elliott said. “But again, I am not pinpointing every play. (Tyler Grisham) would have a better feel on that, but for what I have seen, he has been making plays. He has been running past people, so he looks like the Joseph of old.”
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