Monday Morning Quarterback
Clemson held its first scrimmage of preseason camp Saturday at the Poe Indoor Practice Facility, completing the Tigers’ ninth day. What have we learned about the 2021 Clemson Tigers through the first nine practices of camp?
No surprise, the defense is pretty darn good, especially the defensive line, while on offense the running back competition might be a three-man race.
During Saturday’s scrimmage, Lyn-J Dixon and Kobe Pace shared the bulk of the carries with the first-team offense. But freshman running back Will Shipley also got some carries with the first group. With two days remaining in camp, it appears the Tigers are no close to solving who their starting running back will be than they were at the start of fall camp.
On the offensive line, Clemson felt pretty good about where it was at with its center position. For a third straight season, the Tigers will have a new center, and coming out of the spring it appeared redshirt sophomore Hunter Rayburn had a strong hold on the position.
However, Rayburn has been inconsistent in camp, so left guard Matt Bockhorst has slid over and cross trained at the position. Bockhorst started Saturday’s scrimmage at center. The redshirt senior shared first-team reps with Rayburn and Mason Trotter, according to head coach Dabo Swinney, during the two-hour scrimmage.
Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said Bockhorst got a lot of good work at center. If Bockhorst does win the starting center position, freshman Marcus Tate might be the Tigers’ answer to start at left guard. He has been working with the first-team offense at left guard when Bockhorst has worked the center position.
As for the backup quarterback battle, the Clemson coaches have still not indicted when Taisun Phommachanh will return to full speed, but the redshirt sophomore looks closer than we once thought. Phommachanh did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage, but during the first eight practices he participated in almost every drill, except live ones.
He is running well on his left Achilles, which he tore in the final minutes of the Spring Game on April 3.
As for the other quarterbacks, freshman Will Taylor has really shinned and had another good day in the scrimmage. Swinney also liked the way fellow freshman Billy Wiles played, saying he had a solid scrimmage.
But as of right now, the Tigers’ backup quarterback will likely be walk-on Hunter Helms.
“Hunter, he just looks like he’s been here for a year or so,” Swinney said. “He’s put a lot of work in, he knows our system.”
On defense, the story has been all about the defensive line. We all knew the D-Line would be the strength of the unit, especially with its starters. However, what has come out of the first nine practices is the depth of the line.
Guys like Tre Williams, Ruke Orhorhoro, Darnell Jefferies and Etinosa Reuben have all been singled out by Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables at some point in camp, giving the Tigers solid depth at defensive tackle.
Clemson entered camp extremely deep at defensive end with Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas, Justin Mascoll, K.J. Henry and Justin Foster all in the mix. But now, Swinney has singled out sophomore Kevin Swint, who moved over to defensive end from linebacker in the spring, as a guy who is making plays and is giving the Tigers another possible playmaker at the position.