Spring Camp: First Day Observations

by - Senior Writer -
Hunter Johnson makes the throw during practice
Hunter Johnson makes the throw during practice

CLEMSON – Fifty-one days after defeating Alabama and winning the second National Championship, the Clemson football team kicked off the 2017 season with the first practice of the spring.

Thunderstorms pushed the team indoors after just 30 minutes, but that happened to be the same amount of time allotted to the media, and we have a few observations from the first day.

No practice is complete without some great quote from tight ends and tackles coach Danny Pearman, and Wednesday was no exception. As Pearman walked several of the players through a special teams drill, he took exception to the softness displayed by one player.

“This isn’t a feel-good time we are having out here,” Pearman said. “You have to punch that son of a gun.”

And with that opening salvo, spring practice began as the Tigers hope to punch their ticket back to the College Football Playoff.

*Player leadership is a big question going into the spring and next season, and with only seven scholarship seniors on the team, Swinney will have to look to some younger players to fill the void. Early on, it appears junior left tackle Mitch Hyatt and senior cornerback Marcus Edmond will be counted on to provide that leadership. Both led the stretching session during the first practice, which is usually reserved for seniors and team captains.

*Dabo Swinney announced during his Wednesday press conference that Clemson Sports Information Director Tim Bourret selected for the College Sports Information Directors of American (CoSIDA) Hall of Fame, and it was fun to watch all of the coaches and football staffers come up to congratulate Bourret, who has been with Clemson 39 years. The excitement by everyone on the coaching staff shows just how well-respected Bourret is within the athletic department.

*During the tempo period at the beginning of practice, where the offense runs through a set of plays as quickly as possible, the first group wasn’t a surprise with left tackle Mitch Hyatt, left guard Taylor Hearn, center Justin Falcinelli, right guard Tyrone Crowder (who was in green), right tackle Sean Pollard, quarterback Kelly Bryant, running back C.J. Fuller, and wide receivers Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow. However, both Milan Richard and Garrett Williams ran with the first team at tight end. They would switch out based on the type of play that was being run – Richard was in on passing plays and Williams on running plays.

The second-team was quarterback Tucker Israel, Tavien Feaster at running back, tight end Cannon Smith and wide receivers Cornell Powell, Diondre Overton and Trevion Thompson, and an offensive line of Tremayne Anchrum, John Simpson, Gage Cervenka, Maverick Morris and Kelby Bevelle from left to right.

*The three quarterback drills we were able to watch consisted of footwork and soft toss. Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter stressed the importance of taking each rep and each drill as serious as they would during a game. Kelly Bryant looked much improved with some of his accuracy, even though they were only throwing passes of 10-20 yards. He was able to put some nice touch on the passes that Streeter wanted a lot of air under.

Zerrick Cooper looked exactly like expected. He has good accuracy and can put the ball wherever he wants, whether it’s line drive or a pass that requires touch.

Everyone will ask about Hunter Johnson, and the best answer I can give is that he looked a freshman – a freshman with a great arm, but still a freshman. He was feeling his way through the drills and trying to perfect everything Streeter asked him to do from arm angle to footwork to making sure his body was properly aligned on every throw.

He did look bigger than he did when he was on campus for Swinney’s camp last June.

*The best line of the day comes courtesy of co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott. The offensive staff had all of the offensive players going through various ball security drills, and Elliott would try to rip the ball out of the player’s hand as he was pushing them onto the padded mat. When it was Hunter Johnson’s turn, the ball moved ever so slightly, and Elliott quipped, “I’m gonna get it, Hunter! I’ve got a Ph.D. in this, and I know just when to rip it!”

*Current San Francisco punter Bradley Pinion (who played for Clemson) is back in school and will be helping with punters and kickers during the spring.

*Defensive end Lasamuel Davis is beginning to look the part. He told us last month that he was adding weight, and you could tell the extra 20 pounds or so has done wonders. I watched him during drills, and he’s explosive off the edge.

*Another impressive defender is safety Isaiah Simmons. The coaches set up a drill where four footballs were placed on traffic cones and spaced about five yards apart on the sidelines. Five players would do a series of up-downs in the middle of the field, and then run to grab the footballs off the cones. The one player who didn’t get a football had to do a little extra running, but Simmons was the one who stole the show for me. He’s big – we all know that – but I’ve wondered how that size would translate at safety. He’s got the wheels to play back there, and he’s smooth when he runs.

*During the special teams period, Ray-Ray McCloud, Hunter Renfrow, Tavien Feaster and Aamir Trapp all worked at punt return.

Photo Gallery: Tigers open spring practice

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