Five Questions for the Spring: Offense
|Monday, February 13, 2017, 1:13 PM- -|
When the Clemson football team took the field last spring, most of the questions were geared toward the defense and replacing all of the defensive starters that seemingly left in droves – either to graduation or early departure to the NFL.
For the defending National Champions, the script is flipped in 2017.
Most of the defense returns in 2017, but the main playmakers on offense have to be replaced. Head coach Dabo Swinney and co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott must figure out how to replace a bevy of superstars, including Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson.
Everybody knows that Clemson will be looking for a quarterback this spring and a lot has already been written, so outside of the quarterback race, let’s take a look at five questions for Clemson’s offense as they head into spring practice.
1. Who will score touchdowns for the Tigers in 2017?
Wayne Gallman and Watson accounted for 26 of Clemson’s 30 rushing touchdowns, while Tyshon Dye (who announced his intent to transfer) also added a score. Receiving, the Tigers lose Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, and Jordan Leggett, who accounted for 23 touchdowns. That’s 65-percent of the Tigers’ total touchdowns.
The good news for the receiving corps is that there is plenty of experience coming back. Ray-Ray McCloud scored two touchdowns. Some would say Hunter Renfrow is probably Clemson’s biggest target returning as he scored six touchdowns, including the game-winner against Alabama in the National Championship. Deon Cain – who had nine scores last year – will need to take a huge step this offseason and become Clemson’s go-to guy. The Tigers also have Cornell Powell, Trevion Thompson, Diondre Overton and T.J. Chase all returning as young guys who should make marked improvement.
The leading rusher returning in terms of scoring is Tavien Feaster (2), however he will be battling it out with C.J. Fuller, who showed he wants to be the guy the in 2017 towards the end of last season.
2. Will there be a featured running back or will it be by committee as the coaches try to replace Wayne Gallman?
Gallman was Clemson’s featured running back and leading rusher for the last three years – rushing for over 1,000 yards each of the last two years.
Clemson brings back experience with Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller and everything you’d want in a running back in Tavien Feaster, but will any one guy take the reins?
Fuller showed a lot of promise towards the end of the season and ended up with 211 yards on 47 carries and was in the game in crunch time when Gallman needed a break. Choice – who was Clemson’s starter before going down with a torn ACL two years ago only rushed for 168 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per carry – while never looking totally confident in his knee.
That brings us to Feaster – who ran a 6.88 60m for the Clemson’s track team last weekend. He showed flashes during his limited snaps. The Spartanburg native has the speed and quickness to be a threat but has he improved enough in his blocking to for the coaches to trust him to protect the quarterback?
3. Clemson has been known for great tight end play, who’s going to be the next man up?
Garrett Williams (6-3,245), Milan Richard (6-3, 260) and Cannon Smith (6-5, 260) have the size and while they’ve shown the ability to be good blocking tight ends, none have been asked to catch passes and be an integral part of the vertical passing game. However, redshirt freshman J.C. Chalk and wide receiver-convert Shadell Bell, both have the athleticism to be a threat and a match-up nightmare in the passing game.
Will one person emerge as a do-everything tight end or will the coaches employ more of a committee approach depending on down and distance?
4. Clemson returns four of five starts on the offensive line, but who will replace Jay Guillermo?
Mitch Hyatt, Taylor Hearn, Tyrone Crowder and Sean Pollard all return along the offensive line, but line coach Robbie Caldwell will need to replace not only a veteran center, but also the leader of that group in Guillermo.
Justin Falcinelli seems to be the heir apparent to Guillermo after spending last season as the backup center, but Gage Cervenka – who made the move from defensive tackle last year – will push for playing time.
At 6-4, 315, Falcinelli has the size and makeup to be a good center, but he’ll have to find consistency in his snaps if he hopes to grab hold of the job. While Cervenka is new to the job, he told us during the bowl media days that he’s been working extra with graduate assistant Thomas Austin to learn the position and give himself the best chance to compete this spring.
5. Who will lead the offense?
All of the talk this spring will be about quarterback battles and who is going to play receiver and running back, but the biggest question is who is going to take hold and become the leader of the offense and the team?
Watson, Scott, Gallman, Williams, and Leggett were all the emotional and vocal leaders of the team. They all played with an extra chip on their shoulder and used that chip to not only motivate themselves but also their teammates.
Renfrow, Hyatt and Cain will all be counted on in their position groups, but can they overcome their quiet demeanor and step into the void? Will it be Sean Pollard, who is an emotional, fiery player, but also just a sophomore? Will one of the young quarterbacks be able to step in and gain the respect and trust of their teammates right off the bat?