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5 storylines to follow in Clemson’s spring game

Clemson+wide+receiver+Bryant+Wesco+Jr.+goes+through+drills+during+spring+practice+on+March+1%2C+2024.
Justin Robertson
Clemson wide receiver Bryant Wesco Jr. goes through drills during spring practice on March 1, 2024.

Clemson will hold its annual spring game on Saturday at 1 p.m., with Team Orange taking on Team White in Memorial Stadium.

While the spring game is a glorified intrasquad scrimmage, here are five storylines to follow on Saturday:

Who will be the freshmen phenoms?

Clemson has a number of mid-year enrollees who will make a case for early playing time in the fall, and at the top of that list is five-star wide receiver Bryant Wesco Jr.

Set to play on Team Orange, Wesco has made a good first impression on the Clemson coaching staff in spring practice. Offensive coordinator Garrett Riley said last week that he’s been “very pleased” with Wesco.

“He’s been able to mentally handle things,” Riley said. “I think he’s a guy that has transitioned really well with the speed of the game. The moment isn’t too big for him; he feels like that kind of player to me.”

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound pass-catcher has the potential to develop into a No. 1 option on the perimeter but needs to add weight and gain experience.

Along with Wesco, linebacker Sammy Brown is a mid-year enrollee to watch. The former five-star recruit was the Tigers’ top-rated recruit in the 2024 cycle and has the potential to be among the top linebackers across the country.

Defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin said last week that Brown has improved every day he’s been at spring practice.

“Now things are slowing down and becoming more fluid (for him),” Goodwin said of Brown. “(He’s become) more comfortable, more confident quarterbacking the defense and running the show out there when he’s getting his opportunity.”

A handful of other true freshmen to watch on Saturday are running back David Eziomume, defensive tackle Champ Thompson and 6-foot-8 defensive end Adam Kissayi.

Will Klubnik play a clean game?

Expectations for quarterback Cade Klubnik were high entering last season with Riley as his play-caller. Now, with one full year as a starter under Klubnik’s belt, it’s time for those expectations to come to fruition.

As a sophomore, Klubnik completed 63.9% of his passes for 2,844 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Along with his play through the air, Klubnik also lost four fumbles on the ground.

The former five-star signal caller will have to elevate that level of production if the Tigers want to compete for a national championship. But, more importantly, he will need to limit the number of turnovers, as alluded to by Riley and Swinney in spring media sessions.

“When you’re a high school quarterback, and you made plays all your life, and you get away with making some of those plays that you don’t at this level, sometimes you just got to learn and go through it, and that’s what I’ve seen this spring,” Riley said.

Playing for Team Orange, Klubnik may not see the field much in the second half on Saturday, but keeping the ball out of harm’s way should be the No. 1 goal.

What will the starting defensive line look like?

Clemson lost four starting defensive linemen to the NFL since last season: Xavier Thomas, Justin Mascoll, Ruke Orhorhoro and Tyler Davis. In light of their departures, the Tigers’ defensive line group will need all the experience it can get going into next fall.

Swinney said on Wednesday that Woods will miss the spring game as he recovers from mono, but the rising sophomore is set to run out as a starting edge defender opposite T.J. Parker in August. Following arguably the best season of his career, DeMonte Capehart is likely to be slotted as a starting defensive tackle, as well.

That leaves several other defensive tackles to compete for playing time, including redshirt senior Tré Williams, redshirt freshman Vic Burley, who will miss Saturday because of a hamstring injury, and senior Payton Page. Redshirt junior Cade Denhoff and redshirt sophomore Jahiem Lawson are also two names to watch at defensive end.

Will there be any separation at kicker?

In desperation for a consistent placekicker, Clemson had to pull graduate kicker Jonathan Weitz out of retirement last season — an ask Swinney and the Tigers hope to avoid this time around.

Benched for Weitz last fall, Robert Gunn III is first in line to earn the starting job. The redshirt sophomore converted on one of four field goal attempts last season and 14-of-15 on extra point attempts.

Alongside Gunn, true freshman Nolan Hauser will throw his hat into the ring for the starting gig. Hauser, one of the top kicker recruits in the country, said last December that he’d hit as far as 68 yards in practice. He and Gunn appear to be neck and neck thus far.

“They’re both kind of right there,” Swinney said of the kicking competition on Wednesday. “I can’t really say one guy has said, ‘Hey, I’m the guy.’ They’re just kind of right there. Robert has probably been a tad bit more consistent, but not a lot. They’re both kind of right there together.”

Gunn will play for Team Orange on Saturday, while Hauser will don a white jersey.

In-game pressure for a kicker is difficult to replicate, so Saturday’s spring game will give fans a glimpse into how Gunn and Hauser handle kicking when tens of thousands of people are watching.

Will Clemson implement any headset-helmet communication?

The NCAA proposed a number of rule changes in March, including in-game, coach-to-player communications through a headset and the helmet of one player on the field. While the rule change has to be approved by the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel later this month, it seems inevitable that it will pass.

Swinney underplayed the significance of the rule change, saying he does not see it changing Clemson’s operation.

“I don’t see much change,” Swinney said in March. “We’re practicing with it every day with the headset and the walkie-talkie deal. We’re trying to get used to it as a staff, but you still got to signal.”

The spring game provides a great opportunity to test out the helmet communication and have players and coaches deal with any learning curve that comes with it. Whether it’s Riley communicating with Klubnik or Goodwin communicating with Wade Woodaz and the MIKE linebackers, fans should keep an eye out to see if the impending rule change influences the on-field communication.

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Justin Robertson
Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
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