Redshirt Freshman Impact

by - Senior Writer -

The recruiting class of 2012 was talented and deep, but because the Tigers are already beginning to build depth all across the board, the Clemson coaches were able to redshirt players that would have made a first-year impact at other schools.

This year, they are the redshirt freshmen, and they are ready to make an impact.

Some of them face a logjam at their position, with older and more experienced players already ahead of them on the depth chart, but there are a few that stood out in the spring and should see playing time this fall.

Who will make an impact? Here are our top four guesses.

*WR Germone Hopper – Junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins moved to the boundary receiver position during the spring – the position manned by Nuk Hopkins the last three seasons – paving the way for Hopper to earn playing time in the slot.

He also isn’t a slouch in the return game, returning five kickoffs and one punt for a touchdown his senior season of high school, and he could help bolster a return game that sagged for Clemson last fall. It isn’t too hard to imagine both Watkins and Hopper back to return kicks, and teams would have to pick their poison.

He also could make an impact running the football out of the slot, much like offensive coordinator Chad Morris did with Watkins two years ago – Hopper rushed for over 4,000 yards and scored 50 touchdowns in high school.

*C Jay Guillermo - Guillermo was the nation’s No. 1-rated center coming out of high school in Tennessee, and could have played last season. However, the Tigers already had center Dalton Freeman and backup Ryan Norton earning all of the snaps, so Guillermo took the redshirt year to get bigger and better. Reports I have heard have him at 308 pounds right now, and when I saw him a few weeks ago he looked solid.

The best compliment I heard on Guillermo during his redshirt season came after one of the late-season practices. The starting defensive line was coming off the field, and one of the defensive tackles gingerly removed his pads and complained about how sore his chest was. He asked, “Who was I going up against on the scout team today? He beat the ever-living heck out of me.” One of the other tackles informed him it was Guillermo.

However, the path to Guillermo playing might lie in the failure of others. If the coaches entered the season with all things being perfect on the offensive line, Isaiah Battle would be at left tackle, some combination of Kalon Davis/David Beasley/Brandon Thomas would be at left guard and Ryan Norton would be at center.

However, Battle didn’t wow the coaches during the spring, and Brandon Thomas might start the season there. I’ve heard more than one person say that if the coaches want their five best linemen on the field, then the versatile Norton could move to guard and Guillermo could play center.

*QB Chad Kelly - Kelly might not be the best candidate to make an impact – he plays behind a Heisman Trophy candidate in starter Tajh Boyd and the ever-improving Cole Stoudt, who opened a lot of eyes this spring. And in case that wasn’t enough, he tore his ACL in the spring game and had to have surgery, putting the entire 2013 season in doubt.

However, everything I am hearing is that his rehab is going better than expected, and he might return sooner rather than later in some kind of a limited role. Does that mean mid-season, or after mid-season? Probably sometime after the middle of October.

Kelly showed what he is capable of in his limited snaps in the spring game, impressing with his arm, his accuracy and his running ability. One of the things that makes him a candidate to earn playing time once he’s able, however, is his leadership.

One player told me that if you have 92 yards to go for the winning touchdown and you only have two minutes left on the clock, Kelly is the guy you want in charge of your huddle. He exudes that confidence that other players feed off of.

*DB Ronnie Geohaghan - Little Go tends to get lost in the shuffle. There are all of the defensive backs Clemson recruited in 2013 and Travis Blanks from the 2012 class. Add in the returnees in the secondary, and Geohaghan is sometimes forgotten.

People tend to forget that a lot of scouting services had him rated as high as the No. 10 safety prospect in the nation in his recruiting cycle, and that Rivals had him as the No. 3-rated player in the state of South Carolina. He is 6-0 and I’ve heard a shade over 200 pounds, which means he could see time at the safety spot this year.

The Clemson coaches were finally able to do a lot of evaluation of the redshirts during bowl practice, and I’ve heard that Little Go and Hopper were the stars. Everything points to his being ready – and able – to help out Clemson’s secondary this season.

Now, this doesn’t mean that some of the other players can’t come in and earn playing time during fall practice, because I’ve heard good things out of all of those guys. Tight end Jay Jay McCullough just needs to learn the playbook, and linebacker T.J. Burrell has shown glimpses of what he can do. I’ve heard that offensive lineman Patrick DeStefano is up to 290 pounds and is showing leadership on the line. Others like defensive end Martin Aiken have a lot of talented and experienced players sitting in their path. However, someone will show up and earn more reps.

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