If it seems like Clemson football hasn't had a break, it would be because they really didn’t have a break. From winning the national championship on Jan. 9 through National Signing Day and the unveiling of the new football facility to preparing for the opening of spring practice on March 1, Dabo Swinney and his staff have had no let up.
But the Tigers will be ready to go on Wednesday and with a few very important departures, Clemson fans have plenty to watch in the coming weeks. Here are five things to keep an eye on, with number one being very obvious.
5 Storylines to Watch in Clemson’s Spring Practice
1. Who is the Next Quarterback?
Talking about replacing Deshaun Watson or filling his shoes is ridiculous and unfair to whoever wins the quarterback job. But somebody will be taking snaps when Kent State comes to Death Valley on Sept. 2 and this spring will be the first test for all of the candidates. Kelly Bryant will open at the top of the depth chart, but he will have several guys nipping at his heels in the coming weeks. Zerrick Cooper is a talented dual-threat option that could unseat Bryant sooner rather than later. Tucker Israel is another run-pass threat and early enrollee freshman Hunter Johnson was a five-star recruit, who apparently has a pretty good arm.
2. Development of Deon Cain
With Mike Williams off to the NFL, Clemson has to find a new No. 1 wide receiver. Hunter Renfrow is dangerous but doesn’t necessarily fill that role. Ray-Ray McCloud seems like he could thrive in Artavis Scott’s role as the possession receiver. That brings us to Cain. He primarily been a deep threat during his time at Clemson but has the ability to become much more and he will look to take the next step this spring.
3. Defensive Tackle Depth
Dexter Lawrence is a beast and it is scary to think how good he could become. Albert Huggins is in position to take over as the other interior starter. But one of the keys to Clemson’s success – and a necessity for a team that likes to up the tempo on offense – is to have depth along the defensive line, especially at tackle. With Carlos Watkins graduating and Scott Pagano transferring out for his fifth year, more bodies are needed at that position. Assuming that Christian Wilkins stays at end, it’s time for redshirt freshman Nyles Pinckney to make an impact.
4. Cornerback Battle
Clemson has a slew of skilled athletes in the defensive backfield, so the competition for Cordrea Tankersley’s vacant corner position will be fierce. Mark Fields was in the mix to start last season but wound up as a back up to Ryan Carter. Fields has the experience, but Trayvon Mullen looks (6-2, 185) the part of a shutdown corner. And don’t forget about Marcus Edmond, the player that forced James Quick out of bounds to seal the victory against Louisville.
This has rarely been a problem under Dabo Swinney. If you’re not all in, you’re not going to be part of the Clemson program for long. But things become a little different after a championship. The Tigers are now the big dog and while that is fine, the chip on their shoulders needs to remain. Plus, with players like Watson, Williams, Wayne Gallman, Ben Boulware, Watkins, Pagano, and others elsewhere, there is a huge leadership void that has to be filled. Which players emerge as the go-to guys has begun during conditioning workouts and will begin to unfold even more during spring drills.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Clemson in the ACC
After all that Clemson has accomplished over the past two years – and really going back four years to the Orange Bowl win over Ohio State – no one in the ACC will feel sorry about the Tigers’ personnel losses. And in reality, despite losing Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Ben Boulware and all the other stars that generated so much success, the only ACC team that is on Clemson’s level in the talent department is Florida State. So while there will most likely be a dip in 2017, the Tigers should still contend for league honors. Plus, with a gifted young roster and outstanding recruits waiting to wear the orange, more College Football Playoff appearances appear to be on the horizon.
— 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.