Spring practice: Defensive players to watch
|Wednesday, February 22, 2017, 8:07 AM- -|
Spring practice starts a week from today, and head coach Dabo Swinney will likely meet with the media before the start of practice to answer questions and give his thoughts on the beginning of the 2017 football season.
Yesterday, we posted a list of offensive players we can’t wait to see in action this spring, and today we will take a look at the defense.
DE Xavier Kelly
Kelly might have played last season, but a moped accident late in August camp prompted a redshirt campaign. Kelly told us last month that he currently weighs in at around 265 pounds, and if Christian Wilkins moves inside (as we expect) Kelly will push for snaps at one of the defensive end spots. We would expect Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant to start out the spring as starters, but Kelly is one of those special players (from everything we’ve heard) and he will use the spring to earn snaps.
DE Austin Bryant
Speaking of defensive ends, it will be interesting to see how Bryant bounces back from an injury-riddled 2016. The junior – who broke his fifth metatarsal during fall camp – will once again be vying for a starting spot. This will also be a year that he’ll want to put his best foot forward with the NFL Draft potentially on the line.
Staying on the defensive line, Pinckney is a guy who the coaches have raved about. He is a smaller defensive tackle but has a motor that never stops. Swinney compared Pinckney to former Tiger and current Atlanta Falcon Grady Jarrett. While Pinckney won’t feel the pressure of having to step into a starting role right away, this season will be important for him playing behind Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, and he will also be counted on to provide depth after the departure of Scott Pagano.
LB Shaq Smith
It’s not every day that a 5-star comes to Clemson and redshirts, but Smith was afforded the opportunity to watch and learn last season. Swinney told us that Smith was a leader during the Power Hour workouts and that Smith had greatly improved since stepping on campus. Smith will most likely step into the WILL linebacker spot vacated by Ben Boulware. How quickly can he pick up the defense and what defensive coordinator and linebacker’s coach Brent Venables tries to do? That will determine how much playing time he sees next fall.
Mullen played sparingly during his freshman season, but earned more playing time towards the latter part of the year. That experience will be invaluable as he’s thrown into the fire to compete for a starting spot opposite Ryan Carter at cornerback. Mullen was highly touted coming out of high school and the battle between he and Mark Fields will be intriguing throughout spring. Can one of those guys grab hold of the starting job before A.J. Terrell and LeAnthony Williams step on campus?
Simmons was another one of those guys who was on the bubble for playing time. He went all through fall camp thinking he was going to play and during the last few days before game week, the coaches told him they’d like to redshirt him. Just like Smith, the redshirt season was invaluable, especially in the weight room. Simmons has the size and the speed to be a prototypical safety and should be a physical presence in the secondary.
Last season was the first time we’ve seen a truly healthy Chris Register, and he tallied 142 snaps. This is his season to step into more of a contributing role. Once he arrived on campus, he made the transition from linebacker to defensive end, which cost him time, and then injuries hampered him further.
Yeargin is another one that has the talent and now has the experience. He played 189 snaps last season.
CB Mark Fields
When Fields has been on the field he’s been electric. He started just one of the 15 games last season, but played 337 snaps. With the graduation of Cordrea Tankersley, it’s time for Fields to show he deserves to play the kind of snaps Tankersley saw last season (867). Spring camp will go a long way towards showing where he stands.
LB Tre Lamar
Lamar avoided a redshirt last season but played just 102 snaps. He made the most of his time on special teams, but with a year under his belt, he has a chance to be a real star. It will be interesting to see just how far he’s progressed.
Muse blocked a kick in the title game against Alabama, but like Lamar spent most of the season as a star on special teams, playing just 106 snaps. However, he logged meaningful snaps late in the season and there’s a vacuum at safety with the graduation of Jadar Johnson.