Spring Practice Preview: 5 Burning Questions For Clemson
Clemson takes the field Wednesday afternoon with its first spring practice of 2020.
The Tigers bring back a ton of talent and will expect to return to the College Football Playoff, but that doesn't mean the spring is without questions:
1. How will the loss to LSU impact this year’s squad?
Even though players will be grilled about it by the media this spring, it’s time to put the way the 2019 season ended to bed. It’s a new year and Clemson has the talent returning to reach for great aspirations for 2020. But it’s worth wondering how much that loss will motivate this group throughout spring and summer and into the fall.
Complacency is something Swinney has fought successfully since Clemson reached the otp of the mountain in 2016, but at times, he’s had to reach for motivation. Not finishing in the national title game should easily give the Tigers that famous chip on the shoulder they’ve used successfully during the five-year run to the College Football Playoff. We’ll see how fired up this team is at getting back there. Listen to what the messages coming from the players are about bouncing back. Those are usually reflective of what the coaches are preaching.
2. Will D.J. Uiagalelei give off those Trevor Lawrence vibes?
After one flick of the wrist in the 2018 spring game, everyone knew: Lawrence was the real deal. The conversation after that day wasn’t a matter of if, but when, he would become Clemson’s starting quarterback after he spun his first deep pass. It turns out that after four games he was able to unseat Kelly Bryant and lead the Tigers to a national championship as a true freshman.
Uiagalelei, a five-star prospect and one of the top QBs in the 2020 class, won’t have nearly the pressure or impact, barring injuries or something unforeseen, in 2020, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get people talking this spring the way Lawrence did in 2018. The media will be watching him like a hawk during Wednesday’s media viewing availability to see if he gives off the same vibes Lawrence did the first time he first took the practice field. Fans will certainly flock to Memorial Stadium on April 4 ready to see if the Uiagalelei hype is real. QB Taisun Phommachanh might be paying close attention to Uiagalelei as well.
3. How does Bryan Bresee look matched up against college athletes?
Dabo Swinney has already called the nation’s No.1 recruit and defensive tackle of 2020 one of the “most disruptive” players he’s seen at the high school level. So much for taming any hyperbole around Bresee. But when you cut on the tape of his prep performances, he looked like a man among boys. How will he look on a practice field littered with four- and five-star talents?
The Damascus, Maryland, native physically dominated smaller players and excelled against other top recruits at big events. He’s super talented and has as high a ceiling as any player that’s come through Clemson’s defense in recent years, but it’ll be important to see how he moves around and through bigger, more experienced players. If he’s winning matchups in the spring, he’ll be a shoe-in performer this fall. Then all bets are off on what he can accomplish right away.
4. How noticable will Isaiah Simmons’ absence be on the field?
The projected first-round pick of the 2020 NFL Draft was a monster last year. He lined up at every level of the defense and allowed defensive coordinator Brent Venables to get super creative and switch to a 3-3-5 scheme to take advantage of Simmons’ versatility and the strengths of others.
What will the Tigers look like this spring on that side of the ball without the great roamer? It’s a hard ask for Mike Jones Jr. to replicate what Simmons did, but he’ll get his chance to run that “Sam” linebacker position. There is so much production that will need to come from others to make up for Simmons, and this defensive front, with the influx of Bresee and two other true freshmen, will have to prove during the spring it can get pressure in the backfield so the Tigers can back to a more traditional 4-3 look up front.
5. How will Tony Elliott feed so many mouths in the running back room?
Look through the running back depth chart, remember that there is only one ball and then figure out how all of those players will stay happy. Elliott, Clemson's offensive coordinator and RB coach, probably didn’t really believe he’d be getting all-time leading rusher Travis Etienne back for his senior season when Elliott stockpiled the room with Lyn-J Dixon, Mickey Dukes, Darien Rencher and Demarkcus Bowman (who will be on campus this summer) the last few years.
It’s got to be one of the most talented and deepest running backs groups in all of college football, but as we’ve seen in recent years with the invention of the always-open NCAA transfer portal, kids might not be so patient to wait their turn. Everyone will be keeping an eye on the pecking order, and if they all stick around through the summer.