CLEMSON — As Clemson wrapped up spring practice last Saturday, Dabo Swinney seemed quite pleased with the progress of his young receivers.
“What’s happened is, those backups have closed the gap,” Swinney said. “Which is good. With the tempo we play at, it sure makes it easy when you don’t have to worry about who’s in there. You can just play and play fast.”
When Swinney releases the post-spring depth chart, 2011’s starters – sophomore Sammy Watkins, junior DeAndre Hopkins and senior Jaron Brown – are expected to remain as the first-teamers.
“Those young guys, they were kind of playing like true freshmen last year, Peake and Bryant in particular,” Swinney said. “They really emerged this spring and I’m proud of that.”
Although Bryant and Peake were far more hyped, Humphries was the most productive of the backup trio last fall. Originally slated for a redshirt, Humphries earned his way onto the field in preseason camp and finished with 15 receptions for 130 yards in 258 snaps as Watkins’ backup.
Bryant had nine receptions for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but was wildly inconsistent in 195 snaps.
Peake had four receptions for 71 yards in 245 snaps.
Both Bryant and Peake were considered four to five-star recruits, but neither lived up to their initial billing.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris still needs to see more from Bryant.
He had five receptions for 20-plus yards as a freshman, but had only three receptions for 22 yards in the season’s final six games, including a four-game catchless streak.
“I think Martavis, as we’ve all said, is an unbelievable talent,” Morris said. “Very inconsistent. Very inconsistent. His spring has been very inconsistent. He’s had some really good days and he’s had some very bad days.
“And we all know what kind of talent he has. But we’ve got to have the consistency out of him to develop him into that complete receiver. So we’re all excited about him, but where’s he going to be when August rolls around?”
Where does Bryant need to improve?
“In his pass routes, in his route-running, just missed assignments, blown assignments on some easy stuff,” Morris said. “It’s not that he’s not trying. It’s that right now we’re moving at a fast pace and it’s challenging him. It’s pushing him a little bit. We’ve got to have him being more consistent and having less mental mistakes.”
This spring, Watkins admitted he wore down physically en route to becoming the Associated Press’s third-ever first-team true freshman All-American (following Georgia’s Herschel Walker and Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson).
He is working to improve his overall strength and conditioning, and Hopkins has also picked up the pace in his first true full offseason as a football player; Swinney called him spring’s most valuable player.
If Bryant, Peake and Humphries can follow their lead, the Tigers’ receiving corps will be even more dangerous – a truly scary thought for opposing defenses.