Five practices into the spring and it sounds like Dabo Swinney is a believer.
“We are really developing the type of championship depth you have to have.”
Those were the words from the head coach following Clemson’s fifth spring practice on Wednesday, and from the looks of it, that isn’t just lip service.
The Tigers are still without some guys still recovering from injuries sustained last season, but that has given some of the younger guys a chance to step up and get quality reps, and that is one of the ways you build depth.
Phil Mafah has been taking all the first-team reps at running back while Kobe Pace and Will Shipley get all the way back after having offseason procedures.
Clemson looks to replace two starting corners, but Sheridan Jones is a seasoned vet, and there is a lot of young talent behind him. Swinney said Nate Wiggins is as good as Clemson has signed talent-wise, but they’re still polishing him up.
The head coach also said Toriano Pride and Jeadyn Lukus are both as good as advertised, although he also added Lukus will need to have a procedure done to clean up his shoulder, but he should be ready to go by fall camp.
Former 5-star Fred Davis is heading into year three, and Malcolm Greene has gotten plenty of work during his first two seasons.
Clemson also has to replace James Skalski and Baylon Spector. That is 11 years of experience. Trenton Simpson will move inside to the WILL, and Barrett Carter is the next man up at the SAM. Carter has been one of the guys to watch this spring.
At the MIKE, LaVonta Bentley, Keith Maguire and Jeremiah Trotter are all locked in a battle for the starting job. Benltey and Maguire have the edge in experience but Trotter probably has the highest upside of the three and will be hard to keeep off the field. Regardless, the Tigers should be in great shape at linebacker.
The defensive front might be the best in all of college football. It is loaded with NFL level talent and it is deep. Defensive tackle Payton Page is one player to watch this spring, as he has shed a ton of weight and looks like an entirely different player.
Outside of EJ Williams, who isn’t all the way back yet, the receivers are healthy and the hope is they can stay that way. However, with Adam Randall already on campus, looking like he could play today, and Antonio Williams arriving this summer, the Tigers have better depth at the position than they did a season ago, meaning they should be better prepared to navigate through any injuries that may come.
Early returns on the offensive line have been positive, as well. Outside of center, there are very few questions, and after taking their lumps early last season, this group should be much improved.
Will Putnam moves over from guard to center, and that is the only real concern at this point. Swinney did note that the transition is going smoothly so far, but the Tigers are still in the market for a transfer who can come in and play right away.
The only other real question, of course, is at quarterback. Can DJ Uiagalelei rebound from his down season and regain the form that was seen in 2020. No one knows that answer yet, but what we do know is that he’s been putting in the work.
Uiagalelei has already shed around 20 pounds from his frame and spent a lot of the winter working on areas that needed improving. Having said all that, unlike last year, Clemson does have another option now, as freshman Cade Klubnik appears to be everything the coaches said he was and then some.
Klubnik is already adding some bulk and should add more before the start of fall camp. When asked how the freshman looked early on compared to some of the other elite talents the Tigers have had in recent seasons under Swinney, the head coach had a very simple repsonse.
“Rinse and repeat.”
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