After the way the 2019 season ended, it’s safe to say that everyone from head coach Dabo Swinney, all the way down to the most casual fan is ready to move onto the next chapter in Clemson Football. While last season might have ended in disappointing fashion, the season as a whole was very successful, all things considered.
Stronger than we were. 😠💪 pic.twitter.com/GG2dwVXCq6
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) February 26, 2020
When the Tigers open spring ball, all eyes will be on the uber talented defensive linemen the staff was able to sign in the 2020 class. Highlighted by the nation’s number one player Bryan Bresee, Clemson has reloaded its defensive front, and in a big way.
Going to more of 3-3-5 look, Clemson wasn’t able to get much pressure on opposing QBs last season without having to blitz. How the two deep shakes out up front will be something everyone will be watching.
The secondary is another area that should see its share of competition. The Tigers are losing both starting safeties and one starting corner from one of the nation’s best pass defenses in 2019.
Nolan Turner returns and now becomes the most experienced player on the back end. Lannden Zanders is one guy to watch at safety after appearing in all but one game last season as a freshman.
RJ Mickens is another name to keep an eye on. The four star safety out of Texas was a Top 100 prospect in the 2020 cycle and could come in and see some immediate playing time.
At corner, former five star recruit Andrew Booth Jr is one to watch when it comes to replacing AJ Terrell. Booth came in with a lot of hype and has now been in the program for more than a season.
Don’t sleep on Sheridan Jones though. He’s another rising sophomore that saw action in all but one game as a freshman and instantly became a fan favorite with his performance in last year’s spring game. Jones is a ball-hawk and will have plenty of opportunities in 2020.
Brent Venables is also looking to replace to of his starting linebackers from last season. Chad Smith, who manned the WILL and Isaiah Simmons who played the SAM, are both gone.
Baylon Spector performed well in a backup role last season and brings plenty of experience to the table, having appeared in all 30 games the past two years. He’s a guy that doesn’t get talked about much but that could be about to change.
Replacing Isaiah Simmons will be no easy task. The 2019 Butkus Award winner was college footballs most versatile player last season. One quick glance at the picture below tells you all the different ways he was used, and just how rare a player like that comes through any program.
Mike Jones Jr will get first crack at the nickel. He did see time in all fifteen games last season, playing more than 180 snaps, but much of that was in garbage time as Simmons was rarely off the field while the game was still in question.
On the offensive side, and just like with the defense, all eyes will be on the big boys up front. LT Jackson Carman is the Tigers only returning starter along the offensive line.
On the surface that might seem problematic and for many programs it would be. Clemson not only brought in elite level defensive linemen in 2020, they also brought in what is likely the best OL class in school history.
The freshmen, along with the coaches tendency to substitute early and often, as well as their desire to cross train, will make this transition much easier than it might be for other teams.
At receiver, Justyn Ross will move over to the boundary in place of Tee Higgins. Ross is a better fit in that role as he never seemed to get completely comfortable on the field side.
Amari Rodgers is back in the slot, although he can also play on the outside, opposite of Ross if needed. Look for him to play a much larger role seeing as he’s now completely healthy. The offense struggled at times in the intermediate passing game and this is an area Rodgers can thrive.
Joseph Ngata got in every game as a freshman, and played over 300 snaps. He showed glimpses of why he was so highly recruited and should be well prepared to take over on the field side.
Cornell Powell has kind of been the forgotten man among the Clemson wideouts, and understandably so. He’s starting his final season of eligibility and it’s now or never.
It’s never been a question of talent with Powell, but for whatever reason he’s just yet to put it all together. Clemson doesn’t have quite the depth at receiver as they generally do, so there’s playing time there for the taking.
Travis Etienne shocked many by deciding to return for his senior season. That decision does make the Tigers RB room fairly crowded, with six backs now on scholarship.
Lyn-J Dixon is entering his third season and Chez Melussi and Michael Dukes are both second year guys. Then there’s five star sensation Demarckus Bowman who will be on campus soon. Don’t be surprised to see one hit the transfer portal after the spring when the pecking order starts to become clearer.
At QB, the only question is whose number two. With Chase Brice now at Duke that sets up a battle between highly touted freshman DJ Uiagalelei and redshirt freshman Taisun Phommachanh. No matter how that shakes out, expect to see DJ getting some playing time and gaining some experience before taking over fulltime once Lawrence is gone.
We might still be a few months from real games but spring practice is still a great way to pass some of that time. Not to mention the spring game is always fun. This year’s Orange and White game takes place on Saturday, April 4 at 230 pm. Admission is free, as is parking.