Offseasons are very short in Clemson, South Carolina. It was just a few weeks ago that Clemson was going up against LSU for the national title and now the Tigers are back at it, opening up spring drills in preparation for another championship run in 2020.
Despite being as prepared as anyone in the country, Clemson still has some things to iron out before they kick the season off on Sept. 3 against Georgia Tech. The sessions over the next few weeks will begin to provide some clarity for Dabo Swinney and his staff as well as allowing an opportunity for newcomers to make their mark.
5 Storylines to Watch During Clemson's Spring Practice
1. Is there another step for Trevor Lawrence?
Clemson's quarterback got off to a bit of a rough start in 2019, throwing eight interceptions in the first seven games. For the remainder of the regular season, he was lights out, completing better than 72 percent of his throws in each game until the College Football Playoff. But two less-than-stellar performances in the playoff brought up questions once again. Beyond anything else, this has to become Lawrence's team. He's now a junior and has to be the team's voice on and off the field.
2. Offensive line
Despite losing four starters up front, Clemson seems fairly stable on the offensive front heading into spring. Jackson Carman is back at left tackle and will have redshirt junior Matt Bockhorst to his immediate right. In his third year on campus, Jordan McFadden will most likely be the right tackle with Will Putnam the odds-on favorite to start at right guard. The major positional battle will be at center, where veteran Cade Stewart will try to fend off redshirt freshman Hunter Rayburn for the starting job. The question of who will start is less important than that of how well will the unit protect Lawrence and open holes for Travis Etiennne.
3. The pass catchers
Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers are both back, but the Tigers have to find a replacement outside with the early departure of Tee Higgins. Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson came into college with high accolades and both performed well at times. Ngata contributed more as the season went along and may have a leg up heading into spring. One other thing to watch at the receiver position is the development of Ross. An electric, big-play threat as a freshman, he became more of a possession receiver, seeing his yards per catch dip by eight. This spring the offensive staff may again look to feature Ross downfield.
4. Putting together the secondary
Cornerback Derion Kendrick is the only starter coming back. Safeties K'Von Wallace and Tanner Muse exhausted their eligibility and A.J. Terrell declared for the NFL draft. The hero of the Ohio State game, Nolan Turner, will undoubtedly claim a safety spot, leaving two open positions in the secondary going into spring. Mario Goodrich, Sheridan Jones, and prized 2019 recruit Andrew Booth are the main combatants at corner and all will play in certain situations. Lannden Zanders has the inside track on that safety position, though Joseph Charleston will contend as well. Safety is an area where depth must be developed.
5. Xavier Thomas
Thomas was selected as a third-team All-ACC defensive end, but I think it's fair to say that Clemson fans expected a lot more during his sophomore season. He only had 31 tackles and two sacks on the season. Despite playing behind Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant in 2018, Thomas' numbers were actually better as a freshman. Clemson has plenty of exciting options at defensive end and if Thomas doesn’t make strides this spring, there's a very real chance that he gets passed by, especially with another crop of highly-regarded recruits already on campus.
— 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.