Clemson Receiver Justyn Ross Transitioning to Starting Slot Role

Dabo Swinney says has Justyn Ross, Clemson's most proven receiver, is Hunter Renfrow-esque when it comes to the slot role, where he's currently the starter.
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With so many more bodies at spring practice than what Dabo Swinney had most of last season, the Clemson head coach's goal this year is to get the best three receivers on the field, no matter what that looks like. 

As it turns out, it looks like Justyn Ross in the slot. The talented pass-catcher missed all of last season after having surgery for the congenital fusion of the spine and is currently working in a role typically reserved for smaller players. 

"Justyn Ross will hopefully be our starter in that (slot) spot," Swinney said. "We're gonna really transition him there. Justyn can play all three spots and he will, but if we were to play today and he was cleared to play, he'd start in that slot position.

After all, Ross, who led Clemson in yards in 2018 and catches in 2019, played mostly on the outside when he started 14 games in 2019, and that would've been his role in 2020 with Amari Rodgers playing inside. But with Frank Ladson Jr. and Joseph Ngata also back healthy, along with returnees E.J. Williams, Brannon Spector and newcomers Beaux Collins and Dacari Collins, there are logjams at all three receiver spots. 

So Ross, who was projected as a first-round NFL draft pick before his condition was discovered last spring, is moving to the inside, where he also played some in his freshman season when he helped the Tigers win a national title in 2018. 

"We have formationed him all over," Swinney said. "He's made plays in the boundary. He's made plays in the field. He's made plays in the slot since he's been here, but we've never really just played him at the 5-man and asked him to learn that."

Swinney said Williams, Spector and Will Swinney are also getting reps there, especially since Ross can't have any contact until he's completely cleared by doctors. He's going back to Pittsburgh later this month for another big checkup. 

What intrigues Swinney the most about the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Ross in the slot is the kind of nightmare matchup he can be for defenders. He compared the Alabama native to former Tiger receiver Derrick Hamilton

"Derrick was very unique," said Swinney, who worked with him as the receivers coach in 2003. "I only had him for a year...but he, he was very unique in his size, his ability to change direction, his lateral quickness and explosiveness, in and out of cuts. And that's one of Justyn's gifts, I mean he is so gifted. He's (Hunter) Renfrow-esque when it comes to his lateral ability. That slot, you know, it's quick change in direction and then you get a big body like that. He's unique, but he can play any position."