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NFL Training Camp: Christian Wilkins 'always rooting' for his former teammates

August 2, 2022

For the past week, NFL training camps have been underway as the league prepares for the preseason and regular season games. 

Here are some news and notes including quotes from former Clemson players and others from Week 1 of camp action. 

The Rookies

Andrew Booth Jr,. was one of only two Clemson players to be drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft. The 42nd overall selection was injured during most of the draft process so training camp is his time to showcase the talent. 

"He looked pretty good," said eight-time Pro Bowl Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson, who was asked about Booth by Chris Tomasson of St. Paul Pioneer Press. "He moved around really well. It looks like he’s healthy, so we’ll see if he can continue to build on that. I like how instinctive he is. He’s very quick at the line of scrimmage. He’s going to be a problem here pretty soon." 

Booth was made available for the media and he was asked, how the Vikings' defense fits his skill set.

"I came from Clemson, and Coach V, Venables, his defense was very complex and this defense is very complex as well,” Booth said after practice on July 27. “But more complexity comes more difficulty, different looks that the offense has to go against. So, I love the difficulty that they have to face, and it makes our jobs easier in all the checks that we have and things like that. So, it feels good."

Linebacker Baylon Spector joined Booth in the draft when he was selected 231st overall (seventh round) by the Buffalo Bills. Spector has also splashed in camp. 

From's Day 3 camp observations:

Spector made his first splash play of camp in a one-on-one coverage opportunity against [O.J.] Howard. Case Keenum fired a pass in the intermediate part of the field to the tight end and Spector ran with Howard stride for stride. It looked like the tight end was going to make the catch but Spector knocked it out at the last moment. Spector and fellow rookie Terrel Bernard both look comfortable in most situations they’ve been put in during camp so far.

According to "The Air Raid Hour" podcast, Spector was the second team MIKE linebacker and could find himself on the 53-man roster as one of six linebackers, if he continues to make plays in camp and preseason games. 

Clemson also had four former players remain on rosters as undrafted free agents. Former safety Nolan Turner (Tampa Bay), cornerback Mario Goodrich (Philadelphia), linebacker James Skalski (Indianapolis), and receiver Justyn Ross (Kansas City) were all on rosters before training camp. 

Ross was placed on injured reserve on July 25, which makes him ineligible to play in 2022 and Goodrich injured a shoulder on Saturday during a collision in practice. There has been no news on Skalski as of yet but Turner was mentioned by Bucs beat writers and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. 

"Yet to be determined," Bowles told the media of the safety situation after practice last week. "Whether we carry a fifth safety or not depends on how they play on [special] teams, how they come along [and] if we trust them [to] doing the right things. But it's a good competition. Nolan [Turner] is very smart, and Troy [Warner] is very smart and had a year in the system. Once the pads come on and the preseason games start, that probably will work itself out."

Former Clemson basketball player Naz Bohannon was also on a roster at the start of camp but he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday. 

A new year, new coach for Lawrence; Etienne is back from injury 

The Jaguars are transitioning from the disastrous, short-lived era under former head coach Urban Meyer to Doug Pederson.

"When you get a new staff, some new players, a new system, that’s one thing you try to limit – is mistakes," said former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars' No. 1 overall draft pick in 2021, on Saturday after practice. "You're going to have some early on, but we've really been pretty clean. As far as knowing assignments, offensively the guys have done a really great job."

Lawrence struggled with Meyer calling the shots last season and made his share of mistakes. In 17 starts, he threw 17 interceptions versus 12 touchdowns and completed only 59.6 percent of his passes. 

He looks crisp," stated Pederson on Thursday of Lawrence's play in camp thus far. "He sees the field really well right now. He's commanding the offense. He's still in the growth mentality, which is exciting. He still wants to get better each and every day. We've seen that out of him."

Former Clemson running back Travis Etienne was drafted No. 25 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Jaguars but missed the regular season after suffering a Lisfranc (midfoot) injury in the second preseason game. 

On July 25, Lawrence was asked about having Etienne back. 

"I think we're in sync," noted Lawrence about the chemistry he has with his former college teammate. "We were able to throw a little bit this offseason when he was in town and we were able to get together. We've always had a good little relationship between us two so that's been something that we didn't lose. So, we still have that, and honestly [I'm] just glad to have him back. He's a big playmaker and just seeing him working himself back, you can see him start to flash more and more every day. I'm just excited and I think when September comes he's gonna be hitting his stride."

Surprisingly, Etienne was sitting among the media and posed a question to Lawrence.

"How does it feel to have Etienne in the backfield, drying his gloves with your towel again?"

"I didn’t miss that," replied Lawrence to Etienne as both laughed. "I’m going to have to wear an extra towel because he’s always taking my towel. It’s great to have my guy back. Been together for a while. Missed him last year. Just excited to have him back. He’s going to add a very explosive element to our offense. He’s going to help us a lot and just getting back to some winning around here. So, we’re excited."

Lawrence was asked about the towel again on Saturday.

"Every time we're in the huddle, he comes up and he's just like drying his hands off with my towel even though he has one," he explained. "So that's why he said that. He's done that for four years now. No, it doesn’t bother me. I just got to switch out my towel more often than normal."

Etienne wasn't just on the minds of the media at the Jaguars camp on the Episcopal School of Jacksonville's campus. At the Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens, where the Miami Dolphins are holding camp, another former Tiger was asked about the return of the ACC all-time leading rusher. 

"Yeah, I've seen him a little bit this offseason," said third-year Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, a former teammate of Etienne and Lawrence at Clemson. "I'm excited for him and the things he'll do this year. That's still my brother, one of my two college teammates, so I'm always rooting for all those guys, every last one of them. So I'm excited to see what he'll be able to do.

"Well, he's the guy, who it's good to see that he's putting in the work," added Wilkins on July 28 in his post-practice interview. "I feel like a year away from ball like kind of just changed his mindset and not saying he didn't have a good mindset before, but I felt he just, at least from what I've seen [from] him [and] talked to him -- it just seemed like he's putting it all together. And that's good. And so, it's up to him what the league will see. But I think in the years to come, he will be pretty solid."

Throughout the early days of training camp, Etienne has been impressive. But coaches emphasize that some players excel in shorts but disappear when the pads are on. The Jaguars wore shoulder pads on Saturday and went full pads for the first time on Sunday. 

So what were they saying about Etienne after practice on Sunday? 

Campservations (Day 6) by John Oehser, Senior Writer:

Travis Etienne Jr. has been one of the stars of camp – and that continues to be the case. That is good news not just for the second-year running back, but for the Jaguars' offense and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Etienne, the No. 25 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, missed his rookie regular season with a preseason Lisfranc injury. While there were understandable concerns among observers about Etienne's ability to return from the injury, he looked strong throughout the offseason program and has routinely turned in a highlight play most days of '22 camp. He had a long run up the middle early in practice Sunday, another in a series of runs in camp that have highlighted the speed and suddenness that the Jaguars hope will add a needed big-play element to the offense.

Head coach Doug Pederson:

"It's exciting to see him and where he's come from, how he's kind of battled to get himself back on the football field and it appears that he hasn't lost the explosiveness which is good and you got to understand too -- he's a young player that missed everything last year," the first year Jaguars head coach said on Sunday morning before practice. "And so, I don't want to treat him that way, but at the same time, we got to understand that there's going to be some mistakes. But to see those types of runs, credit to the other 10 guys obviously, but good to see."

The Jaguars will face the Las Vegas Raiders in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday, August 4, at 8:00 p.m. ET to kick off the NFL Preseason season. The game will be played at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, OH.

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