Spring News & Notes: Lots of competition, progression at key positions

Spring News & Notes: Lots of competition, progression at key positions

Football

Spring News & Notes: Lots of competition, progression at key positions

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Like every year, Clemson has key players from last year’s roster that it has to replace – most notably quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. But that comes with the territory in college football.

That is why Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said they are constantly evaluating.

“I evaluate our roster daily. Everything about our program, all the time. It is always under construction if you will,” he said. “I love that quote, ‘The road to success is always under construction.’

“It is like I-85 out there. It is always under construction it seems like. That never ends. So, I am always evaluating, always looking at those things.”

Here are some news and notes on what the Tigers have evaluated through the first nine practices of the spring.

Dixon is off and running. Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott has liked what he has seen from senior running back Lyn-J Dixon.

“I am just seeing more decisiveness in his cuts and trusting the system,” the Clemson coach said. “C.J. [Spiller] is doing a good job of helping him transition. We know he is a perimeter runner, but what I have seen is a little bit more of a sense of urgency, squaring up his pads and trying to do the dirty things, so he can get the opportunities to get out and hit the home runs which we know he is capable of.”

Taking the next step. Elliott is pleased with how the Tigers are developing on the offensive line this spring, especially the Tigers’ second and third-team guys.

“Paul Tchio is a big guy, a big body that can create movement. He just has to grow up and say, ‘You know what? Now is the time.’ I think you are starting to see him make that transition,” Elliott said. “You are starting to see Mitchell Mayes, he has been asked to do a lot and play both sides, but now he is kind of figuring it out. You can see his true athleticism start to rise to the top. [Hunter] Rayburn is a guy I have been really pleased with thus far. He is the guy that has probably taken the biggest step out of all those guys that we are really counting on over there. [Mason] Trotter is another guy that is going to have to take a step. Obviously, we know what Walker Parks is capable of. Those are the guys I am thinking about right now that have caught my attention.”

He is a natural. Swinney had plenty of high praise for freshman linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. The phenom enrolled at Clemson in January with 11 other early enrollees.

“He is going to be a great player. He is a natural prospect. He is as advertised,” Swinney said. “He is a naturally physical guy. You say linebacker, but I have been around some guys where linebacker was not natural for them, but he is a very natural guy. He sees the game well. He has one motor. I love that, he goes full speed. But again, we wanted a guy (there) and he is the guy. We love his potential and what he can look like at that position.”

Venables making Simpson as versatile as possible. Trenton Simpson is making sure he knows all the ins and outs at the strongside linebacker position on Clemson’s defense. He is also learning the other two positions—middle and weakside—as well.

“I am learning all three positions so I can be as versatile as possible,” he said. “Whenever I come out of SAM I can rotate to MIKE or WILL and just be able to play at a high level. That is what Coach (Brent Venables) is getting me prepared for. He wants me to be ready on Sept. 4 for all three positions.”

Last season, Simpson played the SAM position exclusively. The 6-3, 225-pound linebacker finished last year with 32 tackles, including 6.5 behind the line of scrimmage. He had four sacks and forced a fumble as well. He played in all 12 games for the Tigers and started three of them, including the Sugar Bowl.

Ajou is starting to figure things out. Swinney said Clemson wide receiver Ajou Ajou has really taken advantage of his opportunities and has progressed quite well through the Tigers’ first nine practices this spring.

The Tigers held their first major scrimmage of the spring on Wednesday and Ajou caught the eye of his head coach.

“He is one of the most improved (wide receivers) and he should be,” Swinney said.

Swinney’s thoughts on his redshirt freshman receiver come after Elliott said he wanted to see more from the 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver, especially off the field. He wants to see Ajou be more consistent on how he handles things in his everyday life.

It appears Ajou has taken Elliott’s advice.

“He had a long way to go before really becoming a truly functional, dependable, confident receiver,” Swinney said. “But the light has really come on for that young man. He is making some strong strides, so I am super encouraged from what I have seen in him from where he was when he first got here last summer. I mean, he has made a ton of progress.”

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