Yes, another fall camp is finally amongst us again and as the Tigers get ready to begin their quest at continuing their domination of the ACC, continue their streak of making the College Football Playoff, and their fourth national championship trophy, there will be a number of different storylines to follow.
Of course, the number one thing that must be better this season will be offensive line play. That was one of Clemson’s weak links last year and it showed quite frankly. It was a line that only had one returning starter but the guys that stepped into those starting roles all had plenty of experience.
The Tigers had Travis Etienne in the backfield, one of the best running backs in the country, and still saw their rushing numbers take a dive. Etienne, who had been masterful at picking up the chunk plays through his first three seasons, saw his yards per carry average drop by more than two yards. Far to often, running lanes just weren’t there.
The second thing that really needs to be paid attention to this season is can this Clemson team avoid the injury bug. Last season they couldn’t.
For instance, during the biggest regular season game, which was against Notre Dame, the Tigers had three key defensive players sidelined by injury. Tyler Davis, James Skalski, and Mike Jones Jr were all out. Then add in the number of walking wounded, which there were plenty of guys playing very banged up. After that loss in South Bend, there were even more.
Clemson lost Andrew Booth, Nolan Turner, Lannden Zanders, Justin Mascoll, and Bryan Bresee to injury that night. They also had to deal with the loss of Justin Foster who missed the entire season and Xavier Thomas, who was extremely limited throughout the season. And this was just on the defensive side of the ball.
On the offensive side of the ball they were dealt a huge blow before the season when they lost Justyn Ross. They also had to deal with injuries to starting receivers Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson. Matt Bockhorst missed time during the season. Having the full spring and summer in the weight room should help in that regard.
The third thing that the Tigers will still have to keep a close eye on is the Covid testing. Although, there are some different protocols for year two of dealing with the pandemic.
The NCAA is recommending not testing fully vaccinated players and coaches unless they are symptomatic, while unvaccinated individuals would be tested three times a week. If at least 5% of a team tests positive, all symptomatic people and close contacts will need to be tested. Vaccinated athletes also don’t have to quarantine after what’s considered close contact.
This is huge, after last year saw Trevor Lawrence sidelined for two games, while not really having any real issues other than minor symptoms. There were plenty of other players that missed time as well.
Clemson seemed to do a great job considering everything they had to deal with and did not get into the issues that some other teams did, such as having to halt their entire operations completely. But it’s already reared it’s ugly head this week with the news that Justyn Ross has been placed into Covid protocol due to a positive test.
There are definitely other things to keep an eye on but these three things seem to be the keys to the standard that Clemson has set to be the best.
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