More than 50,000 showed up at Memorial Stadium on Saturday to watch the Orange take on the White in the annual Clemson Spring Game. With expectations running sky high coming off of last year’s ACC title and coming up short against Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, those in attendance got a look at what head coach Dabo Swinney will have at his disposal in 2016.
Most of the signs were positive coming out of Saturday’s tilt. Here are five thoughts on Clemson five months out from the Sept. 3 season opener against Auburn.
1. Deshaun Watson Looked Good...
And so did backup Nick Schuessler. Everyone knows what Watson can do, so seeing how the reserves performed was more important. Schuessler went 14-of-21 for 133 yards and a touchdown while looking more comfortable than Kelly Bryant, his closest challenger for the No. 2 spot. While Schuessler will never be confused with Watson or Bryant running the ball, he did show some ability in the zone read game. But it was his accuracy and timing in the passing game that set him apart from Bryant.
2. Receivers Not Named Artavis Scott Making Plays
First off, Scott did make things happen. But like Watson, Scott's a given. What was more encouraging were the plays made downfield by his position mates. Hunter Renfrow had a great day with five receptions for 85 yards and the game’s first touchdown. Trevion Thompson’s six catches led both teams. And Ray-Ray McCloud, after averaging just 8.7 yards per catch last season, showed his big-play ability by getting deep and hauling in a 61-yard touchdown pass from Watson.
3. Kendall Joseph
The Clemson defense loses several major contributors and while middle linebacker B.J. Goodson’s departure may fly under the radar nationally, the people wearing orange know how vital he was to the unit’s 2015 success. Joseph is next in line at the Mike position and if Saturday is any indication, he is ready to go. Joseph finished with seven tackles and he not only made plays; he made impactful plays.
4. Cordrea Tankersley Assuming the Top Corner Position
Clemson needs young players to become disruptive members of the secondary. But this team also needs Tankersley to embrace the role as the leader of the defensive backfield and become a shutdown corner. Tankersley had a very good 2015 season, but he also had Mackensie Alexander covering the other side of the field. This year it will be on the senior from Beach Island, S.C., to match up with the opposition’s top target. On Saturday, he showed why the Clemson coaching staff is optimistic that he can do the job. From getting physical on a swing pass early in the game to blanketing Scott on another, Tankersley lived up to expectations.
5. Special Teams Adventures
The third phase of the game was not one of Clemson’s strong suits last fall and Saturday was full of special teams inconsistencies. Greg Huegel made a 31-yard field goal, Alex Spence made one from 21 yards away, and Scott had a couple nice returns. But the opening kickoff flew out of bounds, McCloud had a punt miscue that led to him getting tackled inside the five-yard line, and Spence missed an extra point and a short field goal. The Sept. 3 season opener is a ways away, but Clemson needs to clean up this aspect of its game.
— 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.