|by Nikki Steele|
Spring practice starts this week, and many eyes will be on who wins those jobs on the unit coached by Chad Morris.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and the coaches have built depth on the offense, but with longtime stalwarts such as Dalton Freeman, Andre Ellington and Nuk Hopkins leaving for the NFL, there will be some big shoes to fill.
Will veteran reserves lock up these spots during spring camp or will they leave the door open for freshmen to take over when they arrive in June?
The following is a list of position battles on the offensive side of the ball- some of which probably won’t be answered until the fall. We will take a look at the defense tomorrow.
*Backup quarterback- With quarterback Tajh Boyd being a senior, Morris needs one of his backup quarterbacks to exert themselves and prove that they can lead the offense when Boyd moves on to the NFL. Junior Cole Stoudt has played in 14 games and has proven that he can move the offense down the field, but newcomer Chad Kelly is looking for an opportunity to move into that number-two role. Kelly is a running quarterback who also has a very accurate arm. During pre-game warm-ups last season, his arm strength, accuracy and footwork were evident. Can Kelly come in and take over the backup spot from Stoudt, the veteran reserve?
*Running back- Senior Rod McDowell figures to be starter at running back next season, but the real battle will be between D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks for the backup spot. After carrying the ball 83 times for 461 yards and five touchdowns, McDowell wants to be that guy who carries the ball, but the speedster will need help in the backfield if Morris continues to run 100 plays per game. Howard has shown flashes of success after rushing for 230 yards in 2011 and 138 yards in 2012, but has been bitten by the injury bug along the way. Howard has all of the physical tools to be a very good running back, but he needs to lower his center of gravity and not run standing straight up in order to avoid injuries. Brooks only carried the ball 26 times for 119 yards, but gained valuable experience that he can use as his playing time increases in 2013. Howard and Brooks will need to show that they are committed playing at a high level, because freshmen Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman will arrive on campus this summer looking to take their spots.
*Tight End- Since arriving at Clemson, Chad Morris has the taken tight end play to a new level as Dwayne Allen won the Mackey Award in 2011 and Brandon Ford caught 40-plus pass last season. Ford tied Allen’s records for most receiving touchdown in a season and in a career with eight and 12. Clemson returns two tight ends that saw action last season in Sam Cooper and Stanton Seckinger. Cooper had 10 receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns, while Seckinger added four receptions for 35 yards and a score. Cooper has the edge at tight end because he is bigger and more developed to handle the pass-blocking responsibilities of the position. However, Seckinger is more of the quick, athletic-type that can line up at both tight end and at wide receiver. Don’t forget about freshman Jay Jay McCullough, the 6-3, 230 pound athletic freak from Fort Mill. McCullough was a late addition in 2012, but if he can pick up the playbook, he could see some early playing time in 2013. True freshman Jordan Leggett is already on campus and will participate in spring drills, and he has the ability to avoid a redshirt.
*Center- Dalton Freeman was a four-year starter and now holds the record for most consecutive starts by a Tigers. Freeman was also the unquestioned leader of the offensive line. During spring practice, redshirt sophomore Ryan Norton and redshirt freshman Jay Guillermo figure to battle it out for Freeman’s spot. Both are tough, physical players that bring a nastiness to the position. Norton played 277 snaps in 2012, mostly at left guard, but also at right guard and center. Morris said many times last season that he brought Norton in because he brought an extra level of physicality to the offensive line that was needed against physical defensive tackles. Guillermo is also another physical and athletic option at center. Last season on the scout team, defensive tackles left practice complaining of how bruised and beat up they were because of Guillermo’s play. Both players have the tools necessary to start at center, but Norton may be a step ahead after playing in nine games.
Nikki Steele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org