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Clemson Football

Three takeaways from the Clemson football spring game

April 6, 2024

A walk-on quarterback stole the show, the defense manufactured big plays, and a midyear enrollee made a one-handed touchdown catch in Clemson's spring game. Here are our top takeaways from the program's annual intrasquad showdown:

The future of the defensive line is in good hands.

Despite losing future NFL draft picks like Ruke Orhorhoro‍ and Tyler Davis‍, Clemson's defensive line will still have impressive depth in the 2024 season. As we reported during the 2023 recruiting cycle, DL coach Nick Eason brought an "embarrassment of riches" into the program. That haul will pay off big time this year.

Former four-star redshirt freshmen AJ Hoffler‍ and Stephiylan Green‍ combined for five sacks and 6.5 TFLs. They blew up the white team's offense early and often in the spring game. Green had four sacks, showcasing his explosiveness and elite pass-rush potential that made him a superstar at Rome High School (Ga.). He expects to "be in the rotation" on the defensive line this season after only playing 13 snaps last fall. He's a breakout candidate and was one of the most impressive performers today.

Hoffler came to Clemson as an uber-high-ceiling prospect, and new defensive ends coach Chris Rumph is already tapping into that potential. Hoffler was a force off the left edge in the first half. He's campaigning for a starting defensive end spot opposite TJ Parker, and he strengthened his case in the spring game.

Clemson will rely on freshmen again, but that's okay.

Rookies played nearly 4,000 snaps for Clemson in 2023, which led the country (and it wasn't close). Safety Khalil Barnes‍, defensive tackle Peter Woods‍, and defensive end T.J. Parker were all named FWAA Freshman All-Americans and return as staples of the Tiger defense.

The next wave of blue-chip freshmen is primed to impact the program similarly.

"That man is one-of-one. He made a one-hander on a fade route. We are going to use him; he's a great player."
- Clemson wide receiver Antonio Williams on Wesco postgame

Midyear enrollees Sammy Brown‍ and Bryant Wesco‍ have a talent for first impressions. Brown sacked Cade Klubnik‍ on his team's first defensive snap, while Wesco made a one-handed touchdown catch on a fade route in the first half.

I expect both to entrench themselves as starters by the midseason mark. Brown will fill the shoes of Jeremiah Trotter Jr.‍, while Wesco immediately improves a lackluster receiver room. Brown's elite run-stopping skills and Wesco's ability to win one-on-one matchups will put them in Freshman All-American contention.

In the NIL/portal era, Clemson's talent acquisition strategy has opened opportunities for multiple freshmen to play critical roles each year.

The program's roster is turning over faster than ever. Since Clemson refuses to use the portal, high school recruits have more immediate chances to play. The coaching staff sells this to recruits, and it's a key reason players like Brown committed to the program. Since Clemson is quickly developing these top-notch prospects, the "youth movement" has produced good early results.

The quarterback room is still alarmingly average.

Walk-on Trent Pearman was the best quarterback on the field Saturday. He went 13-18 for 141 yards, with one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. Pearman also ran for a 49-yard score and was the leading rusher in the game. I wouldn't be surprised to see him overtake former four-star Christopher Vizzina as the backup quarterback this season.

The walk-on also outplayed Klubnik, who completed only 50% of his passes, did not account for a touchdown, and tossed a pick on a miscommunication with Adam Randall. The returning signal caller was remarkably mediocre in the spring game. Unless he takes a significant stride forward this summer, I don't see this Clemson offense competing with Georgia in the season opener.

Klubnik and the quarterback room are uninspiring. While the 2024 squad will be anchored by a strong run game and elite defense, the lack of strong quarterback play clearly limits the program's ceiling this fall.


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