Kelly Bryant figures to open up the season as the Tigers' starting quarterback but the job won't be handed to him
Clemson’s 2017 football season was hardly a disappointment. But the way it ended, with a crushing loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in the College Football Playoff, had to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of both the players and the coaches. As a result, the Tigers have to be itching to get on the field and hit someone.
That happens this week, even if the hitting is confined to blows on teammates. These Tigers know that they should once again be a contender for the title in 2018. However, there are some questions that need to be answered and that process begins with spring practice.
5 Storylines to Watch During Clemson’s Spring Practice
1. Quarterback battle
There are two things at play here. First, can incoming freshman superstar Trevor Lawrence overtake Hunter Johnson for the backup slot behind Kelly Bryant? Secondly, how big will the gap be between Bryant and his backup entering fall camp? Everyone expects No. 2 to be the starter when the ball is kicked off against Furman on Sept. 1. But will there be whispers at that time about Lawrence or Johnson getting meaningful action during the season? The play of all three of these quarterbacks this spring will help answer some of those questions.
2. Wide receiver depth chart
With Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud declaring for the NFL draft, the Tigers have a couple of unexpected vacancies at wide receiver. The always dependable Hunter Renfrow is still around, but the development of the younger receivers will be vital to establishing a viable passing game. Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers were coveted recruits from the 2017 class that got some action as true freshmen. Both will be attempting to earn a starting role this spring and they will be pushed by early entry five-star Derion Kendrick. An important aspect of the spring will be cultivating a comfort level between the quarterbacks and this relatively inexperienced receiving corps.
3. Covering the receivers
It will be fascinating to watch the talented but inexperienced receivers going up against the talented but inexperienced secondary. Van Smith’s departure leaves a hole at safety and Ryan Carter must be replaced at corner. But like at receiver, there are exciting young players looking to step up. Isaiah Simmons looks too big to be a free safety, but he has the athleticism and may get a shot at that position. Simmons and K’Von Wallace will team with Tanner Muse to form a hard-hitting set of safeties. At corner, A.J. Terrell played well in his limited opportunities last year and he will battle senior Mark Fields on the side opposite Trayvon Mullen.
4. Who gets the carries at running back?
Travis Etienne (above, right) burst on the scene as a freshman, racking up 13 rushing scores and averaging 7.2 yards a carry. But Etienne didn't start any games for the Tigers in 2017. That’s because Tavien Feaster began 11 of Clemson’s contests and C.J. Fuller the other three. Fuller has decided to transfer, but Etienne, Feaster and Adam Choice are all returning though the real fight for touches will be between the first two. Both will obviously have a role next season, but this spring will begin to sort out in which capacity each will be used.
5. Both offensive guard positions
Mitch Hyatt is set at left tackle and so is Sean Pollard on the right side. Justin Facinelli was a first team All-ACC selection, so center is fine as well. But with Taylor Hearn and Tyrone Crowder now preparing for the NFL draft, the Tigers need to find two new guards. John Simpson is the odds-on favorite to win the job at left guard, but the open spot in between Falcinelli and Pollard is much more wide open. Noah Dehond and Matt Bockhurst are two redshirt freshmen that could compete for the job along with Gage Cervenka, last year’s reserve center. A wild card is five-star early entry lineman Jackson Carman. Recruited as a tackle, Carman will not be starting at either of those positions and he may be too talented to keep off the field.
— 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.