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5 burning questions for Clemson ahead of spring ball

Clemson+wide+receiver+Adam+Randall+catches+a+pass+against+North+Carolina+in+Memorial+Stadium+on+Nov.+18%2C+2023.
Ashleigh Snyder
Clemson wide receiver Adam Randall catches a pass against North Carolina in Memorial Stadium on Nov. 18, 2023.

Spring football is right around the corner, with Clemson set to kick off its practice on Feb. 28.

While the spring game and a few weeks of practice don’t paint a full picture of what the Tigers will look like in the fall, there are some storylines to watch.

That said, here are five burning questions ahead of spring ball:

Can Clemson ever be ‘WRU’ again?

Clemson has developed talented slot receivers over the last several years, with Antonio Williams and Tyler Brown most recently emerging as consistent weapons. The Tigers have, however, struggled with developing explosive pass-catchers on the perimeter, a limitation that has plagued the Tigers’ offense in past seasons.

The hope is that the arrival of Bryant Wesco and TJ Moore, two five-star freshmen, will help alleviate some of that concern. That said, relying on two true freshmen to be Day 1 starters is suspect.

That leaves Adam Randall, Cole Turner and Troy Stellato as the returning players competing for a starting spot on the perimeter. Randall and Turner have both shown flashes of their potential, and Stellato is coming off the best and healthiest season of his career. Still, none of them have had a season with 40 or more receptions, and all have had significant injuries in their career.

Whether it be one of those three returning players or a newcomer, at least one wide receiver needs to be a Justyn Ross or Tee Higgins-like weapon for Clemson to reenter contention as being “WRU.”

Will Cade Klubnik make the required leap?

Clemson was fortunate enough to have Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson to be instant stars as freshmen in 2018 and 2014, respectively. That level of instant success doesn’t come around often, and with it comes a set of unrealistic expectations for the quarterbacks, like DJ Uiagalelei and Cade Klubnik, who have arrived since.

Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik drops back for a pass against the Tar Heels in Memorial Stadium. (Ashleigh Snyder)

In his first full season as a starter, Klubnik had a tumultuous campaign, completing 63.9% of his passes for 2,844 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. It was hardly the season fans or Klubnik expected. Nonetheless, Dabo Swinney and the coaching staff have confidence in the rising junior signal-caller.

“He’s still got a whole ‘nother level,” Swinney said of Klubnik in December. “There’s another level of physical development that he has to have between now and next year. But for a first-year starter, he did a lot of good things.”

Another offseason with offensive coordinator Garrett Riley should help Klubnik’s comfort level heading into the fall. Ball security, especially in the fumbles department, will also be a point of emphasis for the Texas native to improve this spring and summer.

Ultimately, Klubnik has to play better if the Tigers want to return to being a national championship-caliber team.

Do the Tigers have enough talent at defensive end?

Rising sophomore T.J. Parker is the most proven defensive end the Tigers have, as the freshman All-American is coming off his first season with 33 total tackles, 12.5 for loss and a team-high 5.5 sacks.

Outside of Parker, it appears the Tigers will have to rely on Cade Denhoff, Zaire Patterson and a handful of unproven defenders to develop into polished pass-rushers this offseason. There were also some talks from the coaching staff about Peter Woods playing at edge, so the former five-star recruit may be able to showcase his versatility this upcoming season.

Many thought Swinney should’ve brought in a defensive end transfer in light of Xavier Thomas and Justin Mascoll leaving for the pros. Instead, Swinney stuck with the pass rushers on the roster and remained faithful to the players he recruited.

“I don’t see a portal situation,” Swinney said of his defensive end depth. “That was a position that we looked at. We kinda evaluate every position on our roster from the portal standpoint as a staff. And that was a position that, you know, with the guys that we have in-house and what we’ve been able to see from those guys, it wasn’t a position we wanted a portal guy because we’ve got a guy like Peter Woods that can play anywhere. So, you know, is there a guy out there that we think would come in and be better than that? We didn’t feel that.”

Time will tell if Swinney’s faith pays dividends.

How much of a difference will Matt Luke and Chris Rumph make?

Clemson’s offensive line struggles and the aforementioned question marks at the defensive end make Matt Luke and Chris Rumph important pieces to watch heading into the fall.

Swinney made a big splash after the regular season, hiring Luke as the offensive line coach and Rumph as the defensive ends coach. Both have already made significant impacts on the recruiting trail, but their on-field impact has yet to be fully seen.

When the media watched Rumph at practice in December, he was visibly fiery with his players and their effort. Luke, on the other hand, was calmer and more hands-on with teaching techniques.

Both are being true to themselves and using their own coaching styles. It’s now a matter of how those coaching styles affect the players’ performance on the gridiron in the long run.

Should kicker be a concern?

Robert Gunn III was expected to be a great replacement for BT Potter, but he went on to be replaced by walk-on Jonathan Weitz, who Swinney had to pull from retirement amid Gunn’s struggles. Weitz is out of eligibility, so it’ll be a competition between Gunn and true freshman Nolan Hauser for the starting placekicker spot.

Graduate kicker Jonathan Weitz was called out of retirement on Sunday, Sept. 17, to take the starting job for the Tigers. (Ashleigh Snyder)

Both Gunn and Hauser have strong legs, and Gunn dealt with kickoffs for the Tigers last season. The name of the game, however, is to convert field goals and extra point attempts, and Gunn struggled at that when he started the first few games. The former three-star recruit made one of four field goal attempts and 14 of 15 extra point attempts in the Tigers’ first three games of the season.

With Gunn’s mishaps last fall, there’s no reason to think Hauser can’t earn a starting nod right away. Swinney had high praise for Hauser on national signing day, calling him “the best (high school) kicker in the country.”

Kicker may not be the most glamorous position, but it’s one of the most important. Look no further than the Tigers’ game against Duke last season, when Gunn’s two blocked field goals contributed to the Week 1 defeat — a loss that contributed to the 4-4 start for Clemson.

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Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
Ashleigh Snyder, Photo Editor
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