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5 Players That Need to Step Up for Clemson in 2016

Jadar Johnson

Jadar Johnson

With a Heisman Trophy finalist surrounded by a slew of talented offensive skill players returning, nothing short of a return trip to the College Football Playoff will be deemed a success for Clemson. For some, the expectations may be even higher for the Tigers, which check in at No. 4 in Athlon Sports' Preseason Top 25.

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Related: Clemson Tigers 2016 Preview and Prediction

The offense will put up huge numbers; that can be counted on. But there are a couple spots on the offensive line that are open, and for the second year in a row defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have several new starters on his unit.

Here are five Clemson Tigers that will be looked upon to do more this coming fall.

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Jake Fruhmorgen, Offensive Tackle (6-6, 280)

In his only year as a true starter for Clemson, Joe Gore did a nice job at right tackle. Now the torch is passed to Fruhmorgen. The sophomore came to Clemson out of Plant High School in Tampa as a highly regarded prospect that was coveted by the likes of Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Notre Dame. After a year in the system, Fruhmorgen will team with classmate Mitch Hyatt in bookending what should be another very strong Clemson offensive front.

Taylor Hearn, Offensive Guard, (6-5, 330)

After redshirting in 2014, Hearn (above, right) spent much of last season as Hyatt’s back up at left tackle. But his size and physicality make him a better option inside and he will shift over to the guard spot next to Hyatt. Fruhmorgen and Hearn have a higher ceiling than the departing linemen and if they can smoothly adjust to their starting roles, this Clemson offense could be very, very explosive.

Jadar Johnson, Safety (6-1, 205)

The Orangeburg, S.C., product played in all 15 games last year and registered 15 tackles. With Jayron Kearse now with the Minnesota Vikings, the Tigers have a void at strong safety and Johnson is next in line. A senior, Johnson knows this is his final season to display his talents for Clemson fans (and NFL scouts). He was very impressive this spring and the Tiger staff is hoping that he serves as one of the defensive leaders.

Christian Wilkins, Defensive Tackle (6-4, 315)

Wilkins was very active as a true freshman and Clemson will be looking for even more this season. The Longmeadow, Mass., native has the ability to play outside depending on the situation but his agility for his size makes him a difficult player to deal with on the inside, especially on passing downs. With Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson now in the NFL, it’s unlikely that Clemson will get the same production from its defensive ends. So they will need Wilkins to emerge and ease the burden on Austin Bryant and the other outside linemen.

Related: ACC's Top 15 Players on the Rise for 2016

Kendall Joseph, Middle Linebacker (6-0, 230)

Joseph had an opportunity to be the starting middle linebacker going into 2015. But he was injured twice during fall camp and by the time he was healthy, B.J. Goodson had cemented his place as the Mike backer. Now 100 percent once again, Joseph is charged with replacing Goodson and his 108 tackles. The talent is there, but as the middle linebacker Joseph must also be the quarterback of a defense that will feature several new starters.

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.