CLEMSON — Sunday was an off day for the Clemson football team; following its first full week of practice and its first preseason scrimmage, the Tigers took the day to relax and gather themselves for the final 10 days of “camp” before classes begin August 22.
Before practice began, several coaches said they were looking for “surprises” to emerge this month.
Over the first week, here are five players who’ve impressed their coaches and teammates, in no particular order.
1. DE Tavaris Barnes: The sophomore lineman was inconsistent last fall and suffered through a difficult summer that saw him lose his older brother, former Minnesota linebacker Gary Tinsley, and his infant son. Barnes has channeled his energy onto the field, moving from defensive tackle to defensive end and providing an athletic presence there. With a thin group of defensive ends, Barnes is in position to contribute immediately.
2. LT Shaq Anthony: Anthony was unimpressive while going through his redshirt season, but he appears to have bought into offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell’s system, showing improved focus and toughness. Anthony has emerged as junior Brandon Thomas’ backup at left tackle, putting himself in line for more significant playing time this fall and beyond.
3. LB Lateek Townsend: The four-star recruit had a truncated freshman season after serving a multi-game suspension for receiving illegal benefits from his high school coach, and was only a minimal special-teams factor. He appears poised for much more this fall. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has used him as a roving missile, capable of creating major havoc while rushing off the edge. Saturday, he piled up three sacks and drew praise from all involved. His role this fall is unclear, but this much is known: Townsend will have a role.
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4. WR Charone Peake: Like fellow sophomore wideout Martavis Bryant, Peake was inconsistent as a freshman last fall, making only four catches for 71 yards. He has impressed with a much-improved knowledge of the offense and consistent day-to-day play. His 6-foot-3 frame is an inviting target for quarterback Tajh Boyd, as his two touchdown catches in Saturday’s scrimmage showed.
With star sophomore Sammy Watkins suspended for the first two games, Peake and Bryant will have plenty of chances to prove their worth. If his early work holds up, Peake is a major breakout candidate.
5. C Ryan Norton: Sophomore right tackle Gifford Timothy’s torn meniscus could give the redshirt freshman a major opportunity against Auburn. Senior Dalton Freeman, a versatile and talented center, could shift out to right tackle, allowing Norton to move into the starting lineup at center. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris raved about his toughness and called him “one of our five best offensive linemen,” meaning he’ll likely see a significant role this season, no matter where Freeman plays.