Coming into 2014, the Clemson Tigers will have stability on one side of the ball, but big shoes to fill and question marks on the other. While in years past, the offense has been Clemson’s constant strength, this year, Tiger fans are confident in their defense’s ability to overcome some of the youth and inexperience on the offensive side. Clemson has climbed its way back into college football’s elite, and to keep it that way, the Tigers need to show they can reload instead of rebuild.
Quarterbacks: Record setting QB Tajh Boyd has graduated and moved on to the NY Jets, and in his place stands 5th year senior Cole Stoudt. From Dublin, Ohio, Stoudt is the son of former NFL QB Cliff Stoudt. Stoudt enters his fourth year in Chad Morris’s hurry up no huddle offense, and has mostly seen mop up duty. In his limited role, however, Stoudt has shown Tiger fans not only an understanding of the playbook, but also a good amount of mobility. Cole has also added some weight this offseason, bulking up to 231 pounds, which should help him absorb hits on running plays. Behind Stoudt is Deshaun Watson, a true freshman from Gainesville, Georgia, who is being tabbed as the future for Clemson football. Morris has stated that Watson will not be redshirted and will play this year, including in the season opener at Georgia. Behind Stoudt and Watson stand a pair of transfers. Redshirt Sophomore Nick Shuessler (from Grayson, Georgia), transferred to Clemson from Mississippi State in 2012. Graduate Student David Olson transferred from Stanford after last season, and will be eligible to play this fall.
Running Backs: Despite the injury to Junior RB Zac Brooks, Clemson’s running back corps looks very solid. Senior D.J. Howard will be the starter, with Redshirt Freshman Wayne Gallman and former Clemson track runner, Junior CJ Davidson fighting for carries behind him. Freshman Adam Choice will not redshirt now, due to Howard’s injury, and has been called the best pure runner on the team by Coach Dabo Swinney.
Wide Receivers: How do you replace someone like Sammy Watkins? Typically, you can’t. But, Clemson has a group of guys ready to step up and fill the voids left not only by Watkins, but by the early departure of Martavis Bryant, who decided to take his talents to the NFL. After a week 2 injury forced him to miss the 2013 season and take a medical redshirt, Charone Peake will be the Tigers’ top threat at WR. Adam Humpheries returns for his senior campaign as a slot/possession receiver, and Mike Williams wowed fans with his freshman season, and has been drawing comparisons to Deandre Hopkins by the coaching staff. Kyrin Priester, Germone Hopper, Artavis Scott, and Demare Kitt are some younger WR’s who will be seeing the field a lot this year as well.
Tight Ends: Jordan Leggett showed flashes of brilliance during 2013, and should have his number called more often. Stanton Seckinger and Sam Cooper bring their sure hands back to Tiger Town as well.
Offensive Linemen: Center Ryan Norton returns to anchor the unit, and will have David Beasley and Kalon Davis on either side of him as guards. Out at tackle, Isaiah Battle has channeled his aggression in a positive way, and is set to protect Stoudt’s blindside while Joe Gore plays the right tackle position. Beasley is suspended for the UGA game, so Eric Mac Lain or Reid Webster will probably be filing his shoes in that game.
Defensive Linemen: The strength of Clemson’s team falls with the DL. All-American Vic Beasley returns for his senior year and will be continuing to wreak havoc in the backfield. Corey Crawford (suspended for the UGA game) and Tavaris Barnes are two more seniors who will be at the other DE. Grady Jarrett (son of former Falcons star Jessie Tuggle) will look to continue off of a strong Junior campaign at DT, whith Josh Watson, Deshawn Williams, DJ Reader, and Travis Pagano will rotating in at tackle.
Linebackers: Senior Stephone Anthony will be lining up as the middle linebacker, with fellow Senior Tony Steward playing the weak side. At the strong side linebacker position, TJ Burrell and Dorian O’Daniel will man that ship, while Korin Wiggins and Travis Blanks will rotate with them as the nickel back for the nickel packages.
Defensive Backs: Despite a push from sophomore Cordrea Tankersly, senior Martin Jenkins has gotten the nod to start at CB against UGA. Redshirt Freshman MacKenzie Alexander will be playing the other CB spot. At the safeties, Jayron Kearse (nephew of former NFL star Jevon Kearse) and Robert Smith return after each had breakout seasons in 2013.
Field Goals: With the graduation of Chandler Catanzaro, who is with the Arizona Cardinals, the Tigers will look to junior Ammon Lakip to replace one of the top kickers in Clemson history. The John’s Creek, Georgia native has looked solid in his limited duty so far.
Punt/Kickoff: Bradley Pinion will continue to handle the punting and kickoff duties for the Tigers. The Junior was in the top 25 in efficiency as a punter, and booted 7 kickoffs for touchbacks agains Georgia last year, and has punted 27 punts inside the 20 with no touchbacks in his career.
8/30 @ Georgia
9/6 SC State
9/20 @ FSU
10/4 NC State
10/18 @ Boston College
11/6 @ Wake Forest (Thursday Night on ESPN)
11/15 @ Georgia Tech
11/22 Georgia State
11/29 South Carolina