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Clemson Football

Clemson begins 2019 spring practice with abundant experience, some questions

February 27, 2019
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The recent rain in the Upstate of South Carolina seemed like it may never end, but it seems to have passed and the light at the end of the tunnel that you can see is Clemson football. The Tigers returned to the field Wednesday as spring practice kicked off.

Dabo Swinney’s group returns experience, especially on the offensive side of the football, but there is no question that the defense will have some work to do after losing the entire defensive line-- and other key contributors to the NFL.

These practices over the next month should be fun to follow as Clemson turns the page to 2019.

Here are five interesting questions to consider:

How can Trevor Lawrence improve?

This time last year, the hype train was through the roof for the Cartersville, Ga. native and Lawrence hadn’t even taken a snap in college yet. The conversations about the 6’6 quarterback only got louder after he threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins on his second throw in the contest. You know the story from there.

Lawrence would go on to do something that hadn’t been done by a freshman since Jamelle Holieway did it in 1985-- win a national championship. Outside of the injury that sidelined him against Syracuse, he had an outstanding freshman campaign throwing for over 3,200 yards and 30 touchdowns.

In the ten games that Lawrence started and finished Clemson put up 63, 41, 59, 77, 27, 35, 56, 42, 30, and 44 points for a 47.4 PPG average. If that trend continues, the Tigers will be a tough out even if the defense isn’t as good as it has been in recent seasons.

Lawrence, now with a year of experience in the system becomes perhaps the scariest offensive player in college football. It helps that he has virtually the entire receiving core returning. Opposing defenses have plenty of film on him now and will look to try and take away what Lawrence does best.

His continued development will be critical as the spring progresses.

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
A.J. Terrell returns an interception for a touchdown during the first quarter of the 2019 National Championship.

 

Can the secondary continue to build off a strong finish to 2018?

The secondary caught a lot of flack from fans at times during the 2018 season, especially when the Tigers hit the road to face Texas A&M. Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond torched defensive back coach Mike Reed’s group in the second half, almost bringing A&M back to tie the game late.

After surviving a scare against Syracuse, Clemson took it up a notch in the secondary stifling opposing offenses. Some of that success could have come from Clemson’s defensive line, but hearing from Venables throughout the year it was clear that he believed that the backend of the defense was an asset. 

Outside of the South Carolina game, where they took a step back giving up 510 yards to quarterback Jake Bentley, the Tiger secondary was sharp. They dismantled both Notre Dame and Alabama in the College Football Playoff and following their performance against the Irish, Venables gave an epic locker room speech, telling the secondary that the Tigers were where they were, “because of them, not in spite of them.”

When it counted, guys like Isaiah Simmons, Trayvon Mullen, Mark Fields, and A.J. Terrell stepped up and made plays in the ACC Championship and College Football Playoff matchups. Mullen chose to leave early and Fields’ time at Clemson expired. The good news is that Simmons and Tanner Muse both decided to come back to school, giving a huge boost to the secondary.

Keep your eyes on Kyler McMichael this offseason as well. We think he has a chance to get some significant snaps this coming season. His development will be interesting to watch.

Can B.T. Potter handle being the full-time kicker?

Greg Huegel’s career has concluded, and his consistent leg leaves with him. B.T. Potter, known for his powerful kickoffs is the assumed starter. The Rock Hill product out of South Pointe High School came in as a freshman and essentially took opponents kick return game and put it on the shelf.

Now Potter will be counted on to take Huegel’s place taking over field goals and extra points. Watching him this season should be fun. The Tigers don't rely on field goals all that often, but one has to question if the additional kicks will have any wear and tear on his ability to drive the football on kickoffs. 

© Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports
Xavier Thomas should anchor one of the defensive end spots for Clemson as a true sophomore.

 

Who will step up on the defensive line?

Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, and Dexter Lawrence are all headed to the National Football League. Add in Albert Huggins and the NFL Draft should be littered with former Tigers collecting huge checks. Across the board, all five appear to be high on the radars in NFL war rooms.

Losing that group leaves a large vacancy on the defensive front. Add in injuries to  Jordan Williams and Nyles Pinckney and all of a sudden the interior line is incredibly thin. 

After watching Xavier Thomas this past fall, it would seem that the 2019 season will be a breakout year for the freakish sophomore. Add in K.J. Henry, and it would seem that the shift from the “Power Rangers” era might not be as bumpy as some think.

Venables and the defensive staff will have their work cut out for them this spring and heading into the fall, but they’ve got the pieces in place to make it work. This is a young group, but they might have more potential than any other group and that includes the wideouts.

How will Jackson Carman adjust to being the guy at left tackle?

No one wants to talk about the offensive line until they screw up, and the left tackle spot at Clemson has been held down by Mitch Hyatt the last four years. Hyatt amassed more snaps from scrimmage than any player in Clemson history and was perhaps the blueprint to Clemson’s run of success. Now the Tigers will most likely turn to sophomore Jackson Carman and put the backside protection of Lawrence in his hands.

Carman has experience, playing over 209 snaps during 13 games last season, but he’s never had to be “the guy,” and that’s what he will need to be.

It’s certainly helpful that he went up against four future NFL stars every day in practice, but that was practice. Blake Vinson or perhaps a healthy Noah DeHond could push for playing time, but Carman seems to be the one to beat.

 


 

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Clemson begins 2019 spring practice with abundant experience, some questions

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