Top storylines of the spring - quarterback race, leadership, special teams and more

by - Senior Writer -
Last year saw Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson battling it out. None will participate in spring practice this season
Last year saw Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson battling it out. None will participate in spring practice this season

A perfect storm of athletics is ready to hit the Clemson campus – the baseball season opens today, the basketball team is closing in on the stretch run and a possible postseason berth and football, the king of all Clemson sports, opens spring practice in just a few short weeks.

Ah, football, where have you been? Clemson’s 2015 season is still several months away but plenty will happen between now and the kickoff against Wofford in early September. That includes spring practice and the chance for some early position battles to start sorting themselves out.

With that in mind and to kick off our own spring practice previews, we take a look at a few of the top storylines heading into the spring.


Deshaun WatsonDeshaun Watson
Fr. Quarterback
#4 6-3, 204
Gainesville, GA

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is the starter, but he will be on the shelf as he recovers from his ACL surgery in December. That leaves Nick SchuesslerNick Schuessler
RS So. Quarterback
#12 6-3, 195
Grayson, GA

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to battle it out with early enrollees Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel for the backup spots. This competition will be fun to watch – Schuessler has done enough to earn a scholarship, but the coaches stuck with Cole StoudtCole Stoudt
Sr. Quarterback
#18 6-4, 231
Dublin, OH

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last season even when Stoudt was struggling. With the addition of Bryant and Israel the competition gets a little tougher and it’s going to be interesting to see if anyone gains any separation by the end of the spring. Why is this important? If Schuessler were to win the backup job outright, it might mean the kids get a chance to redshirt next season. But would the coaches send the early enrollees into the summer thinking they didn’t have a shot in the fall? Probably not.

Bryant is more in the mold of Watson – crazy athletic and able to make big plays with his feet. Israel has been in a true passing system longer and might have a better grasp on reading defense. Both players will have had two months in the playbook when spring practice starts, and whichever one shows the bigger grasp of the offense might have the advantage. Schuessler knows the offense, but will have to show the coaches he can take the next step and be the kind of player that can step in and run the offense if something happens to Watson yet again.

Special Teams

Chances are the fans think Ammon LakipAmmon Lakip
RS Jr. Kicker
#36 5-10, 200
Alpharetta, GA

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had a bad year. However, Lakip hit all but one of his extra point attempts and was 19-of-25 on his field goal attempts. Those aren’t bad numbers for a kid who suffered through a disastrous start – he missed his only field goal against Georgia in the opener and was just 1-of-3 against Florida St. He then went on to hit 15-of-16 attempts and finished fairly strong. This spring he will battle Alex SpenceAlex Spence
Fr. Kicker
#47 6-2, 190
Florence, SC

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for the job, and I’ve heard the coaches want to see what Spence has to offer.

Punting – Bradley PinionBradley Pinion
Jr. Punter
#92 6-6, 230
Concord, NC

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opted to go to the NFL and forego his senior season, so the coaches will be relying on Andy TeasdallAndy Teasdall
RS So. Punter
#95 5-11, 185
Winston-Salem, NC

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to wow them this spring. He has the job – for now – but this is another area where Spence will push for playing time. Also, don’t forget that Pinion was the kickoff specialist and the Tigers will have to find a replacement.

Adding to the questions surrounding the special teams – main punt returner Adam HumphriesAdam Humphries
Sr. Wide Receiver
#13 5-11, 193
Spartanburg, SC

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has graduated and the coaches will spend the spring trying to find someone to fill his shoes. Mackensie AlexanderMackensie Alexander
RS Fr. Cornerback
#2 5-11, 190
Immokalee, FL

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? Artavis ScottArtavis Scott
Fr. Wide Receiver
#3 5-11, 190
Oldsmar, FL

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? It remains to be seen which player will get the first crack.

And don’t forget long snapper – the steady and reliable Michael SobeskiMichael Sobeski
RS Sr. Long Snapper
#75 6-2, 220
Roebuck, SC

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has graduated and the coaches will now look to Jim BrownJim Brown
RS Jr. Long Snapper
#51 6-4, 235
Walterboro, SC

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to take over the snapping duties. With so many holes to fill – including a glaring lack of success in the return game – there are a ton of questions surrounding this group.

Offensive line

The left tackle spot is seemingly secured by Isaiah BattleIsaiah Battle
Jr. Offensive Tackle
#79 6-7, 285
Brooklyn, NY

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, but the rest of the spots on the line could be up for grabs – left guard David BeasleyDavid Beasley
RS Sr. Offensive Guard
#68 6-4, 323
Columbus, GA

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graduated, center Ryan NortonRyan Norton
RS Jr. Offensive Line
#58 6-3, 292
Simpsonville, SC

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was inconsistent last season, right guard Reid WebsterReid Webster
RS Sr. Offensive Tackle
#77 6-3, 300
Woodstock, GA

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has graduated and right tackle Kalon DavisKalon Davis
RS Sr. Offensive Guard
#67 6-5, 340
Chester, SC

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has graduated. Spencer RegionSpencer Region
RS Jr. Offensive Guard
#74 6-4, 333
Cullman, AL

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elected to forego his final season of eligibility and Oliver Jones’ football career has ended due to injuries. That’s a lot to lose.

Veterans Tyrone CrowderTyrone Crowder
RS Fr. Offensive Guard
#55 6-2, 322
Marston, NC

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, Eric Mac LainEric Mac Lain
RS Jr. Offensive Tackle
#78 6-4, 306
Hope Mills, NC

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, Jay GuillermoJay Guillermo
RS So. Center
#57 6-3, 314
Maryville, TN

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, Joe GoreJoe Gore
RS Jr. Offensive Tackle
#73 6-5, 283
Lake Waccamaw, NC

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and Maverick MorrisMaverick Morris
RS Fr. Offensive Line
#69 6-4, 291
Broxton, GA

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will all get looks but many eyes will be on the freshmen – Mitch Hyatt, Jake Fruhmorgen, Noah Green and Zach Giella. All four of the standouts from the 2015 recruiting class are on campus and my early guess is that two of these guys might have to play. Which two would it be?

Can Guillermo recover from the foot injury he suffered last season and claim the starting job at center, or will Norton keep his hold? Will one of those two move to a guard spot in an effort to have an experienced guy at both positions? Will Mac Lain finally grab a starting spot? Can Joe Gore recapture the form he showed the coaches last fall that allowed him to start the opener at Georgia? Will Crowder’s technique improve enough for him to solidify a spot? Can redshirt freshmen Taylor Hearn and Justin Falcinelli make inroads into the starting lineup?

Defensive leadership

Let’s face it, this defense has to replace a lot of experience and leadership. There is no shortage of talent on the roster, and a lot of these guys played a ton of snaps last fall. Guys like Ben BoulwareBen Boulware
So. Outside Linebacker
#10 5-11, 235
Anderson, SC

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, Jayron KearseJayron Kearse
So. Safety
#20 6-4, 215
Fort Myers, FL

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, Mackensie Alexander, D.J. ReaderD.J. Reader
Jr. Defensive Tackle
#48 6-2, 322
Greensboro, NC

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, Carlos Watkins, T.J. BurrellT.J. Burrell
RS So. Linebacker
#41 5-11, 215
Goose Creek, SC

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and Shaq LawsonShaq Lawson
So. Defensive End
#90 6-3, 269
Central, SC

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all have started in their careers, but now these guys will be counted on to be leaders. Gone is the charismatic but quiet presence of Grady JarrettGrady Jarrett
Sr. Defensive Tackle
#50 6-1, 290
Conyers, GA

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and DeShawn WilliamsDeShawn Williams
Sr. Defensive Tackle
#99 6-1, 292
Central, SC

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and the dependable Robert SmithRobert Smith
Sr. Safety
#27 5-11, 211
St. George, SC

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. Who will emerge as the voice of this group? Don’t rule out Alexander or Lawson. One is quiet and lets his play do the talking but is the kind of leader every young player can emulate. Lawson is talkative but someone that is already looked up to.

More storylines

There will be more storylines to watch - can Milan Richard make an impact at tight end? Will Jordan Leggett finally break through? Will Jay Jay McCullough be back? Will a corner like Cordrea Tankersley solidify a starting spot before Mark Fields arrives this summer? Which linebackers will emerge from the group that redshirted last season? Will Trevion Thompson make a move at receiver? Can Germone Hopper keep the doubters at bay? Will Zac Brooks be ready to go? Will Tyshon Dye push Wayne Gallman for the starting spot? There are a lot of questions and we will try and get to them all before the start of the spring.

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