|by David Hood|
The purpose of the scrimmage was for the coaches to get a good, long look at many of the freshmen and players fighting for roster spots, and head coach Dabo Swinney said the coaches saw what they needed to see in the scrimmage.
“I thought we accomplished our objectives for today,” he said. “We will go look at the film and see what these guys did. We held out some players today and got a lot of work for some younger players. They performed well. We went over a lot of special situations the second part of the scrimmage and even played an overtime period.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd played just four plays, receivers Sammy Watkins and Charone Peake watched from the sidelines and running back Roderick McDowell was only an interested observer. On defense, defensive backs Darius Robinson, Robert Smith (green jersey) and Travis Blanks didn’t participate.
Freshman receiver Mike Williams had three receptions for 111 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Nick Shuessler. Freshman T.J. Green, who had missed 10 preseason practices with a knee injury, returned Saturday and had three catches for 24 yards.
Red-shirt freshman Germone Hopper had a 22-yard touchdown catch from Cole Stoudt. Freshman Marcus Edmond of Lower Richland High School in Hopkins, SC, had two interceptions for 56 return yards. He returned one interception for a 26-yard score. Freshman Jadar Johnson had the other interception.
Freshman running back Tyshon Dye sat out the scrimmage with a lower back injury, and with the continued emergence of Zac Brooks and walk-on C.J. Davidson, the coaches have four running backs that they feel they can count on, and Swinney said the coaches are still unsure if Dye or Wayne Gallman will need to redshirt.
"We feel good about those four guys, so it's hard to play six backs," Swinney said. "Special teams might be a part of it as well. Tyshon really got out of the gate pretty good and was bringing a presence we don't really have. But he just hasn't practiced in quite a while now. Hopefully we'll get him back soon. If not, we'll redshirt him."
Swinney said that despite what many may think, senior Roderick McDowell is the starter.
"Roderick McDowell is our starter," he said. "He's clearly earned the right to be a starter. But he can't do it by himself. We are going to be a running back by committee and that’s fine. When you play as many snaps as we have, you need a good crop of guys. We pretty much have played three or four backs pretty consistently. I could easily see us playing four or five guys in any particular game, and whoever gets the hot hand, that's how we roll. I'm confident with Hot Rod, confident with Zac (Brooks), confident with D.J. (Howard), confident with C.J. Davidson. I think those four guys have really proven - based on what we've seen at practice this last month, we can trust them."
Freshman linebacker Ben Boulware led all defenders with seven tackles Saturday, continuing his push for early playing time this season. However, the Tigers have plenty of options at linebacker and Swinney said the coaching staff was on the fence about whether Boulware’s year would be wasted if he didn’t redshirt.
But Swinney also sees his value as a special teams wrecking ball.
"He's on the bubble but very close," Swinney said. "He's one of those guys that could help special teams really get over the hump. Because he's a heck of a backer, but he's not where a couple of those guys are. Now, he's not far, and that's where I'm proud of Ben - his knowledge and where he's learned. But he might be a guy who leads our team in special teams tackles."
Swinney said that freshman Korrin Wiggins will play at safety after a camp in which he opened a lot of eyes. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Friday that Wiggins picked up the defense and has worked at nickel. He will avoid a redshirt it seems.
Another safety/nickel candidate is freshman Jayron Kearse, but he suffered a shoulder injury in the scrimmage.
Freshman cornerback MacKensie Alexander was the talk of summer workouts, and many observers expected Alexander to play early this season. His status is now in doubt. Alexander missed much of the first two weeks of camp with a groin injury, and Swinney said Saturday that Alexander was once again limited and has “regressed.”
Freshman Marcus Edmonds picked off two passes Saturday, but Swinney said the situation in Clemson’s defensive backfield is still unsettled.
"To be honest with you, all of those guys have competed really well," Swinney said. "We just have to decide who's most ready. We have several who could benefit from a redshirt. But it's going to be a close call on a couple of them because we need enough bodies and depth to go do what we need to do."
Jadar Johnson, another freshman competing for a spot at safety, had an interception Saturday and Swinney said the early enrollee is now in the mix.
“Jadar I thought started really slow in camp," Swinney said. "Really slow, especially for a guy who went through spring. But I think he's really refocused himself the last week and competed. So he's in the mix."
For those who watched the scrimmage, freshman receiver Mike Williams was a clear standout. He had three receptions for 111 yards.
"He's kind of like a taller DeAndre Hopkins Hopkins, to be honest with you," Swinney said. "Similar skill set. He catches the football in awkward situations, can high-point the ball. Hopefully he'll develop like Nuk did. But Nuk came in here as a freshman similar in a lot of ways. Just Mike's bigger than he was. Mike had a really nice day.”
“There is no doubt about Shaq,” Swinney said of Lawson, who had three sacks Saturday. “There is no doubt he is going to be an impact player for us.”
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org