Wide Receiver: Depth chart will be a matter of scrutiny heading into spring
|Thursday, February 25, 2016, 2:59 PM- -|
The Clemson coaching staff will welcome receiver Mike Williams back with open arms this spring.
The talented South Carolina native missed most of the last season after suffering a neck injury on the opening drive against Wofford in the season opener. Williams had two catches for 20 yards on the drive, the last one for a touchdown that saw him crash headfirst into the goalpost.
The loss of Williams set off a chain reaction in the lineup – senior Charone Peake moved into Williams’’ spot at the 9 man, Artavis Scott moved outside to the 5 man spot and Hunter Renfrow began to pick up snaps and steam at the 2 man spot in the slot.
Williams will return to the starting lineup if healthy (even though he won't participate in contact drills this spring) and he will return to his customary 9 man spot, the same spot played by Nuk Hopkins during his time at Clemson and manned by Sammy Watkins during his final and junior season. The 9 man spot in the Clemson offense is typically more of a possession receiver, and Williams was that and more during his stellar 2014 season when he had 57 catches for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns.
Twenty of his receptions came on second down and 23 came on third down as he quickly became a favorite of quarterback Deshaun Watson. However, Williams also showed the ability to make plays down the field as 30 of his catches went for 15 yards or more and 15 of them went for 25 yards or more.
His spot, seemingly, is set and Artavis Scott will start. So how does the rest of the rotation shake out? That might depend entirely on Deon Cain.
Disclaimer: I am assuming Cain will be available for spring practice. But we haven't heard for sure, even though we know he's been working out and he's been in class. We will know for sure on Monday. But let's go ahead with the assumption Cain will be with the team.
The injury to Williams seemingly opened the door for Cain to earn significant playing time, and he seemingly hit his stride when back-to-back weeks against Georgia Tech and Boston College saw him catch a combined seven passes for 193 yards. Then came Miami – Cain made the trip but didn’t play due to what head coach Dabo Swinney called a rules violation.
He caught 14 passes over the next four weeks but caught five for 96 yards in the regular season finale against South Carolina, including an incredible touchdown. He had two catches against UNC in the ACC Championship and was then sent home before the Orange Bowl and didn’t play against Oklahoma or Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
If Clemson was to start its three most talented players, you would probably see Williams at the 9, Scott at the 2 and Cain at the 5. Trevion Thompson would back up Williams and some combination of Ray-Ray McCloud and Shadell Bell and Renfrow mixing and matching at the other spots.
But we don’t know that will happen, and that’s why this spring will be critical for several players. Renfrow has already proven himself to be more than capable with 33 catches for 492 yards last season, and it’s surprising to note that 15 of his catches came on first down. If Renfrow starts at the 2, Cain could back up Williams or Scott.
That doesn’t include an influx of young talent that will arrive this summer – Clemson adds three 4-star receivers in T.J. Chase, Diondre Overton and Cornell Powell and any one of them is capable of coming in and taking snaps right away.
Will Cain show he’s worthy to start this spring, or will Renfrow hold on to a starting spot? We find out starting next Monday.