It’s also thanks to the kind of team the Tigers can expect to have heading into 2013. It’s a team that has a chance to contend for the National Championship, something the program hasn’t achieved since 1981. They were a team that had questions to answer during fall camp, and they emerge with most of their questions answered, though concerns still linger.
On offense, Clemson’s biggest concerns were at running back, as they must replace workhorse Andre Ellington. After strong camp performances, Rod McDowell emerged as the starting running back and will be the first guy to take the field.
Sophomore Zac Brooks came back from his freshman season stronger and took the no. 2 spot from D.J. Howard, who has been struggling with injuries his first two seasons. Brooks’s running and catching ability out of the backfield make him a great complement to what will likely become a by-committee backfield.
Former walk-on C.J. Davidson has been one of the biggest surprises in camp, jumping over the oft-injured Howard to claim the no. 3 spot heading towards the season opener. His performance provides the coaches with the option of redshirting highly-touted freshmen backs Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye for the future.
Along the offensive line, Clemson had battles at every position except right guard, where senior Tyler Shatley is entrenched as the starter.
While coaches were pushing for Isaiah Battle to claim the left tackle spot, he didn’t quite show enough in fall camp to warrant a starting position. As a result, senior Brandon Thomas will stay at left tackle instead of sliding back to guard. Converted tight end Eric MacLain became a factor at tackle, and showed that he can provide valuable depth and possibly push right tackle Gifford Timothy.
At left guard, the tug of war continued between David Beasley and Kalon Davis for a second consecutive season, but Beasley will be the first to take the field. Both Beasley and Davis have had questions about their toughness, but both provide quality depth.
The biggest concern for Clemson’s offense now lie at tight end, as the ACL injury projected starter Sam Cooper suffered in the spring will keep him sidelined until at least mid-season, and the recent MCL injury to talented freshman Jordan Leggett leaves the Tigers thin at tight end.
Converted receiver Stanton Seckinger will now have an even bigger role as the starter, while redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCullough and fullback/H-back Darrell Smith will also see more looks.
On defense, many are expecting the second-year jump from a defense that came on strong against LSU. The defensive line rotation of Josh Watson, Grady Jarrett, Deshawn Williams, DJ Reader and Carlos Watkins has drawn great reviews in the fall.
Defensive end Vic Beasley is expected to boost the pass rush off the edge after leading the team with eight sacks in a part-time role last season. Beasley has put together a solid offseason in both spring and fall camp. His athletic ability at defensive end was just what the doctors ordered and what the Tigers lacked at the position last season.
The biggest defensive concerns for the Tigers continue to lie with their secondary, which struggled with both injuries and consistency for most of last season. The Tigers feel comfortable with Travis Blanks and Robert Smith roaming as the deep safeties, but cornerback remains in flux.
Bashaud Breeland, Darius Robinson, Martin Jenkins and Garry Peters have been competing for the starting positions all camp long. Incoming freshman Mackensie Alexander was expected to compete, but a groin injury limited him for much of camp, and whether he plays or redshirts remains up in the air.
At linebacker, the Tigers have experience with Stephone Anthony, Spencer Shuey, Quandon Christian, Tony Steward and Kellen Jones. Clemson has had its inconsistencies at this position the past few seasons, but the group came on with a great camp under second-year defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Brent Venables‘s tutelage.
The key changes here will be Shuey’s transition to the Will position from the Mike and whether Anthony can pull through at the Mike position, while Christian is a mainstay at the hybrid/nickel SAM position in Venables’s scheme.
And with fall camp in the books, the Tigers will shift their focus towards the Georgia Bulldogs in Death Valley.