Preseason MVPs. Lawrence, Joseph and Cain lead the way


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Kendall Joseph is one of the nation's best linebackers
Kendall Joseph is one of the nation's best linebackers

Going into last season, it was easy to pick out the players that were Clemson’s best. It was almost too easy to pick out the guys that would be the offensive and defensive MVPs.

Guys like Deshaun Watson and Ben Boulware were returning players that everybody knew would be not only among the best in the ACC but the best in the nation. There is a reason those guys are now in NFL training camps and working for playing time.

If there was a pre-season vote for offensive and defensive MVP – there isn’t – who would win? Who would get the most votes? Nikki and I have been on the road a lot lately, and we’ve had more than one (and probably more than ten) discussion about our picks.

We’ve gone over just about everybody on the roster, and we are gonna give our picks on the record today.

Defensive MVP

Ok, I will admit, I am gonna cheat just a little bit here. In my mind, there are two players that are deserving of his honor. Dexter Lawrence and Kendall Joseph.

Joseph was second on the team in tackles last season, and he will probably lead the team or be close to the team lead in tackles again this season. I spoke with one coach at the ACC Kickoff who mentioned that Boulware got a lot of attention, but they made sure their offensive personnel always knew where Joseph was lined up.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables sounds like he hasn’t completely made up his mind where Joseph will play this season – either in the middle like he did last season or at Boulware’s weakside spot – but it won’t matter. He’s one of the nation’s best linebackers who will get a lot of NFL love this season.

Now for Lawrence. Every time I see Lawrence play, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a Clemson coach before the Gator Bowl against Nebraska. I walked out onto the field for pregame, and we watched Nebraska warming up, and the coach told me that Clemson didn’t have an offensive lineman that could block Ndamukong Suh. Or two. And maybe three.

“We won’t be able to block him. At all,” the coach said. “He’s unstoppable when he wants to be. We just have to create ways to try and control the havoc he will cause.”

I had the same conversation with a long-time coach before the Fiesta Bowl last season, and he was talking about Lawrence. We then sat beside former LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo in the press box, and DiNardo laughed several times at Ohio St.’s futility in trying to block Clemson’s interior linemen, including Lawrence.

Christian Wilkins is a year older and gets a lot of the attention, and deservedly so. But Lawrence is as dominant a player as you will see at that position, and he might just be the best in the country. His disruption will allow Joseph to make plays.

Offensive MVP

This one is a little bit harder. Almost all of the main playmakers are gone, even though Mitch Hyatt is my 1A pick. He’s a unique talent that will shut down one side of the line (he allowed a whopping two sacks last season) and will be an early-round pick in the NFL Draft next season if he continues to progress.

But the guy who gets my MVP will be a guy that can move the chains, whether it’s throwing, catching or running the football.

This might be a little easier if we knew who the starting quarterback is, but we don’t. It might be easier if we knew who the starting running back is, but we don’t.

My pick is….Deon Cain.

I’ve gone back and watched most of Clemson’s games last season, and it really stands out just how much Mike Williams meant to the offense. There were a few games Clemson probably doesn’t win if Williams wasn’t on the field. Even new defensive line coach Todd Bates says that Clemson would have beaten Alabama in the first title game if Williams had been healthy.

Cain has matured so much over the last two seasons, and even though he’s a different player than Williams, he can have the same kind of impact. Williams is long and rangy, a physical receiver who won all of the battles on third down. Cain is a speedster, but he has also proven he can win those physical battles when he has to.

All of the off-season talk has been about Cain’s development, and he looks the part of a big-time receiver. His long reception in the title game last January was the play that jump-started the offense, according to head coach Dabo Swinney.

When the season ends, Cain is gonna be the guy everybody is talking about


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