Clemson's spring football game is April 6, placing it on the early side as compared to other programs around the country. That also means that Clemson's spring drills will begin before most other teams get going.
Because the Tigers played in (and of course won) the very last game of the season, that doesn’t give Dabo Swinney’s guys very much time off. Not that Clemson fans really care. After winning another title — and with a basketball team that has been up and down all season — more football is good news for those that bleed orange.
And there are plenty of items of interest for the champs this spring. Here are five.
5 Storylines to Watch During Clemson’s Spring Practice
1. Just how dominant will the passing game be?
Travis Etienne is an All-American candidate at running back, but this will clearly be Trevor Lawrence's offense in 2019. His rapport with the still young receivers will continue to grow, to the point where the aerial attack could be as dominant as the defensive front was last fall. Justyn Ross got better as the year went on and he had his two best games of the year in the College Football Playoff. For most of the year, Tee Higgins was the team’s No. 1 target and he has yet to reach his junior year of school. Amari Rodgers — often overshadowed by the two game-breakers — is extremely underrated and will take on an even greater role with Hunter Renfrow having graduated. Lawrence and his pass catchers are sensational and everyone will be interested in seeing if they can get even better this spring.
2. The offensive line shakeout
The Tigers return three starters along the offensive front, but the two that are moving on are significant losses. Mitch Hyatt started at left tackle for four years, protecting the blind side of Deshawn Watson, Kelly Bryant, and Lawrence. The most likely candidate to fill the left tackle spot is Jackson Carman, a 6-foot-5, 345-pounder that was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. At center, Gage Cervenka will transition from valuable reserve to a leader in the middle of the line. If Carman can become what many expected out of high school and Cervenka can carry on the Clemson center tradition of Jay Guillermo and Falcinelli, the Tigers should be in good shape up front.
3. Interior of the defensive line
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has to replace his entire defensive front, but with Xavier Thomas and other capable threats outside, it is the tackle position that is more of a concern. Nyles Pinckney had a big close to the season, but he will miss the spring practices after requiring surgery to fix a torn pectoral muscle. The other projected starter on the inside, Jordan Williams, also will be out this spring after hurting his knee in a basketball game. Their absences will give the defensive staff an opportunity to evaluate some of the less experienced players like Xavier Kelly and Darnell Jeffries.
4. Replacing Tre Lamar and Kendall Joseph at linebacker
It won’t be easy. The two combined for 169 tackles last year and they always knew where each other would be on the field. The good news is that hybrid linebacker Isaiah Simmons returns. The leading tackler from 2018 will help break in the new starters, which may include some combination of Chad Smith, Shaq Smith, and James Skalski, the latter a key contributor in 2017 that was redshirted last fall to preserve eligibility after an injury in camp sent him down the depth chart.
5. Corner opposite A.J. Terrell
After a Defensive MVP performance in the national title game, it was no surprise that Trayvon Mullen turned pro. Now Clemson has to fill that vacancy and though there is no shortage of candidates, the coaching staff will need to find the right guy this spring. LeAnthony Williams and Mario Goodrich played reserve roles in 2018 and freshman Kyler McMichael saw action on special teams. Those three would seem to be the leading candidates along with five-star incoming freshman Andrew Booth.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.