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Springing into Football Season

Isabelle Davis, Asst. Photo Editor

Clemson football will look to replace several defensive starters from their National Championship appearance season last year.

Usually, spring and football don’t mix. But there is one thing that breaks up the funk of an offseason: the Spring Game. The Spring Game aims to show off all of the new college football recruits and provide hope for the future of the program. While there won’t be any contact made on the quarterback, all of the other positions will be playing for a chance to start, and that means playing hard.

Clemson’s hopes have never been higher. The Tigers are coming off a tough loss to Alabama in the National Championship back in January. After brutally tearing apart Oklahoma’s defense in the Orange Bowl, the Tigers couldn’t keep up the defensive side of the ball in a 45-40 loss against the Crimson Tide. Now they are back and ready to show the college football community that it wasn’t a fluke. 

Clemson will have a lot of holes to fill on the defensive side. For the second consecutive season, the defensive line situation looks bleak, if you are on the outside looking in. Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins will be the next guys up in the long line of dominating interior lineman for the Tigers since 2008. Even if those two struggle, plenty of new freshmen will be behind them ready to lend a hand. Dexter Lawrence is an incoming freshman playing defensive tackle. Lawrence was a five-star recruit rated No. 2 at defensive tackle and No. 6 overall — in the NATION. 

The secondary and linebacker positions have also been left empty. Mark Fields and Korrin Wiggins look to be the de facto starting safeties, but again, anything can happen in spring. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables knows how to use safeties, so if one or both of them falter, there will always be somebody to take their place. 

Cornerback is a whole other ballgame. Adrian Baker was lost for the season when he tore his ACL in practice. The rockiest-looking part of the 2016 defense is going to be the cornerbacks and how little experience has been accrued at that position.

Linebacker received a surge when five-star recruit Rahshaun Smith committed to Clemson. Smith is vying for a chance at either the Mike (middle) or Sam (strong side) linebacker positions. Ben Boulware has already locked up the Will (weak side) linebacker spot, but Smith has a chance to, at the very least, play an important reserve spot at either of the open linebacker positions. 

The offense from 2015 is only going to improve in 2016. The Tigers lost two skilled players in running back Zac Brooks and wide receiver Charone Peake. Tight end Stanton Seckinger graduated as well, but he was mostly used a run blocking TE. Mike Williams also returns to Clemson football activities after suffering a brutal neck injury in the first game against Wofford when he caught a touchdown pass but ran head-first into the goal post just after the catch. 

Other returning receivers also include Artavis Scott, Ray Ray McCloud, Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow. Every receiver in this corps has a particular position within the offense. Renfrow and Scott are both slightly smaller guys who can play pitch-and-catch type plays, whereas Cain and Williams really stretch the field and use their size and speed to stretch the defense and make plays in space. Renfrow had two touchdown receptions against Alabama in the national title game and has, in one year, developed into one of Deshaun Watson’s

favorite targets. 

“It’s going to be the last time to see Deshaun Watson, most likely, in a spring game,” said Dabo Swinney, and he is right. Clemson fans are still getting used to Watson carving up defenses, but soon they will have to say goodbye to the best quarterback Clemson has had since Steve Fuller, the player whose retired number Watson has emblazoned on his jersey. Luckily, backups Tucker Israel and Kelly Bryant will pick up the mantle, just as Deshaun did after Tajh Boyd left.

Although many Clemson stars are leaving to pursue a career in the NFL or elsewhere, the recruiting job done by Dabo Swinney and Co. has been more than enough to fill the shoes of any of the players who have left. Clemson will continue to be an NCAAF powerhouse for years to come, but first they have to get through the Spring Game. 

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