It’s not often that wide receivers are compared to offensive linemen, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney did just that this week.
Of course, it had nothing to do with physical stature even if some of the Tigers’ wideouts are just as tall as their teammates up front. It had everything to do with the versatility of the group.
“Kind of like the o-line, we’ve cross-trained a lot of guys,” Swinney said.
A deep receiver corps has gotten even deeper heading into the season with the return of Clemson’s No. 1 wideout, Justyn Ross, who’s healthy again after missing all of last season after undergoing corrective spinal fusion surgery. Having Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr. back at full tilt helps, too.
Throw in sophomores E.J. Williams and Ajou Ajou as well as true freshmen Dacari Collins, Beaux Collins and Troy Stellato, and Clemson has no shortage of options for its three receiver spots. For most of them, that has meant reps at multiple positions in order for the Tigers to get their best three receivers on the field at any given time.
Ngata was the projected starter at the 9, or boundary (short side), position last season, but an abdominal injury limited his snaps and forced Clemson to move Cornell Powell from the 2, or field (wide side), position. Ladson was the primary option at the 2 until injuries also slowed him down last season, which prompted Amari Rogers to move from the 5, or slot, to the outside.
Rodgers and Powell were the Tigers’ leading receivers last season and are now trying to earn roster spots as NFL rookies. Yet that’s hardly been a talking point for Clemson with everything it’s brought back at the position.
Ross, Clemson’s leader in receiving yards (2018) and receptions (2019) his first two seasons with the program, has played primarily on the outside when he’s been healthy, but Swinney said in the spring the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder would play all three positions this fall. Swinney went as far to say that Ross would start in the slot if Clemson had to play a game then, so don’t be surprised to see Ross line up on the inside often as the Tigers try to find more ways to create mismatches for their big-bodied wideout.
The same goes for Ladson, Williams and Ngata, whom Swinney said is back practicing after battling a hamstring injury that caused him to miss both of Clemson’s fall scrimmages. Ajou, who’s in line for a bigger role after being largely buried on the depth chart as a true freshman last season (two catches), has been getting reps with the first- and second-teamers primarily at the 9, Swinney said, but the Tigers aren’t planning to keep many of their receivers in the same place too often.
“I feel good about (Ajou), but we’ve moved a lot of guys around,” Swinney said. “A lot of 2s. A lot of 5s. So I feel good about our versatility at the receiver position and the ability to, if we need to, move guys around.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!