Having undergone a significant talent drain to the 2017 NFL Draft, can the next men up lead the Clemson Tigers back to the promised land? Our guest writer, Jamie Garwood takes a look inside the Death Valley program to find out.
Following on from a national championship season, led by a soon to be starting NFL quarterback, the Clemson Tigers nonetheless have high expectations to return to the College Football Playoffs once again this year.
Although the ACC has had a gradual resurrection of talent and performance in the last five years since the Florida State Seminoles led by Jameis Winston made headlines. Those Noles are going to be knocking on the door, as well as NC State and the returning Lamar Jackson at Louisville, who will provide highlight plays in abundance.
The task of repeating as champions is a difficult one in any year for any team due to players leaving for the professional game or graduating. In this instance it will be a tougher prospect for these Tigers, however lets look at what they have going for them.
The obvious positon to start is under center at quarterback. The expected starter for the season opener versus Kent State this weekend is Kelly Bryant, who was the back up to Deshaun Watson for two years, and is due his big opportunity. Key points for Bryant is to translate what he does on the practice field to the real game situation. He displays poise in some practice set ups and good progression through receiver options, but the main query must be about confidence.
2 days away from Clemson football.
Welcome to the Kelly Bryant era. pic.twitter.com/IPGBfQYx5h
— Tiger Commenter (@TigerCommenter) August 31, 2017
Let the Kelly Bryant era begin – filling the shoes of Deshaun Watson will not be easy
In these early games, he needs to instill himself and the coaching staff with confidence; this works two ways, as they need to give him easy passes and completions from a new but exciting receiving core. Deon Cain is the likely heir apparent to fill the shoes of former Clemson receivers who have made the leap to the NFL, such as Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. He has speed on the outside to be the deep threat and last year amassed 7 touchdown catches from a total 724 yards through the air. Coupled with Cain will be Hunter Renfrow, who is the target on third downs and has good hands as well as the size to combat physical defensive play from the slot.
However, the biggest question will be to replace the void at running back left by senior Wayne Gallman who had 30 touchdowns over two seasons. Gallman was not only the threat but the three-down workhorse which left the next generation with little carries and snaps on the field. The answer may well be in CJ Fuller, who showed the power to grind for tough yards last season versus NC State, when Gallman went down. He also has a knack to make big catches in the backfield, changing the course of the offense and can lead to instilling confidence in Bryant.
To maintain an ACC Championship drive, the Tigers will need to step up on defence and on the defensive line they have some returning quality in Dexter Lawrence who has unnatural athleticism for a 340lb, 6′ 5″ frame. Clelin Ferrell has the mixture of strength and speed to break tackles and get to the quarterback or running back forcing turnovers – he had double digits last season – and 6 sacks.
The mark of any lauded college program is to keep the level of quality returning year on year. Clemson have been something of a noise for sometime and the fact they are National Champions adds to the cache. The abundance of talent at their disposal will lead to them getting big wins within a tough division, with road trips to NC State and Louisville (Week 3).
Head Coach Dabo Swinney always takes teams and exceeds expectations; many people did not think they could beat Bama in the title game yet they did. This season will be a different kettle of fish in that, many are not expecting a return to the college football playoffs.
If they do, the season will be a success for the Clemson Tigers.
⇒ Jamie Garwood is the lead writer for his excellent blog Next Two The Ailse, covering film, books and sports. http://nexttotheaisle.blogspot.com