Spring football is starting up in certain spots around the country and that means Clemson will be putting the pads on. Head coach Dabo Swinney likes to have his guys start their official workouts on the early end of the spectrum and on April 9, spring practices will close out with the spring game.
This year has a bit of a different feel as compared to other years. The Tigers did not play deep into January last season so there has been a bit more time off, plus the staff has some old faces in new roles. As a result, there will be a lot to focus on this spring including these five areas of the team.
5 Storylines to Watch During Clemson's Spring Practice
1. The defense without Brent Venables
The new head coach of Oklahoma came from Norman to be Clemson's defensive coordinator in 2012 and the ascension of his unit was rather rapid. The ACC's No. 9 total defense in 2011 went to seventh in Venables' initial season to third in 2013 to the top of the charts in the league in '14. Since that time, the Tigers have never dropped below second and were among the nation’s elite every season. Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn will share the coordinator title, but Goodwin will be the primary play-caller. While he is an experienced member of the Clemson staff, this spring will be the first time the players will hear his voice as the leader of the entire defense.
2. The offense without Tony Elliott
There will be a similar change on offense. Since 2015, Elliott has been the team's offensive coordinator, the first five years sharing the role with Jeff Scott then assuming total control in 2020. Now, quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter will be the main offensive decision-maker. The former Tiger quarterback also held the title of passing game coordinator the past two seasons and has worked with Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence during his time at Clemson. This spring will be the first chance to see any tweaks Streeter might make to the Tigers' offensive scheme.
3. DJ Uiagalelei
It will also be Streeter's first chance to coach Uiagalelei as something more than just his position coach. Without question, the junior quarterback has to be much better in 2022. His quarterback rating was last in the ACC among those that qualified, he threw for just 173 yards per game, and had a dismal 9-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His accuracy has to improve and he also has to be more decisive, not only where to throw the ball but also when to take off and run. If his game does not develop, prized freshman Cade Klubnik will be given a chance to get snaps with the ones.
4. Offensive line progression
Despite the immense success Clemson has had over the past decade, very few Tiger offensive linemen have been picked high in the draft. It has been a situation where that unit has been better than the sum of its parts. But over the past couple of seasons, that has not been the case. Despite having Travis Etienne, Clemson finished 11th in the ACC in rushing offense in 2020 at 154 yards per game. In 2021, there was a jump to eighth with 168 yards a game, but that aspect of the offense was still wildly inconsistent. Plus, while they only allowed 21 sacks, and part of that can be pinned on the indecisiveness of Uiagalelei, this group needs to be better in pass pro as well. The five starters are back from last season so continuing to develop as a cohesive group will be important this spring.
5. Putting together the secondary
The front seven – and especially the defensive line – will be terrifyingly good, which should make the defensive backfield's job a lot easier. But still, the final line of defense suffered some significant personnel losses from last season and those holes have to be filled. Safety Nolan Turner provided leadership and stability for many years and his loss will be felt, but it is at cornerback where the departures of Andrew Booth and Mario Goodrich, two players that will get selected pretty early in the NFL draft, create much more of a concern. Senior Sheridan Jones has a great deal of experience, but youngsters like Andrew Wiggins and Fred Davis will have to grow up very quickly.
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– 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.