After winning the national championship last season and playing in 2 consecutive championship games, Clemson has little to prove that they are among the nation’s elite programs like Alabama. Dabo Swinney’s latest challenge is figuring who will replace a number of key players either graduating or departing early for the NFL Draft. Some of his new starters will be discovered during spring football at Clemson which is underway and concludes with annual orange and white spring game this Saturday April, 8th. The game will start at 2:30 and be televised on the ACC Network.
Decorated quarterback, 2 time Heisman finalist, and program game changer Deshaun Watson has declared for the NFL draft and will likely be a first round pick. Swinney has talented options to replace him, but none of them with meaningful game experience. Among the players vying for the job are veteran Kelly Bryant, redshirt freshman Zerrrick Cooper, and early enrollee Hunter Johnson. A 5 star recruit and rated the number 1 quarterback in the 2017 class, Johnson oozes immense talent very similar to when Watson arrived on campus 3 years ago. Also, top RB Wayne Gallman and talented WRs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott have departed leaving the team void of proven playmakers. Some names to watch for in the spring game are RB Tavien Feaster, who has drawn comparison to Clemson great CJ Spiller, and potential possession WR Deon Cain.
On the defensive side, Clemson loses a player in MLB Ben Boulware that was the heart and soul of the team. Like Watson, his play and leadership will be sorely missed and someone will need to step up. Nasty defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence returns to lead a talented defensive line, but will need to replace the production of Carlos Watkins. The secondary will also have a few new players in starting spots and will need to work on their craft during the spring.
Some regression is expected in the upcoming season as so many key players were lost but Clemson still has more than enough 5 and 4 star talent to return to the College Football Playoffs for a third consecutive year. It remains to be seen if these young Tigers will be “hungry” enough as the past two seasons and will have a huge target on their back as the defending national champions. One certainty is that Dabo Swinney has proven himself a premier college coach and will be more than ready to reload with new faces.
-Story by Yousaf Khan