Dabo Swinney has a quarterback – a pretty good one at that in Tajh Boyd – and that has him pretty optimistic about 2013.
“I like this group,” he said. “Again, you've got a third year starter back at quarterback who has really become the leader of the team, not just the offense.”
But after an early look this spring, offensive production by committee is what Swinney sees where he’s replacing NFL-bound receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington.
The duo was integral in Chad Morris’ offense first breaking school records in total offense (440.8 yards per game), scoring (470) and individually in receiving yards (1,219) and touchdown catches (12) in 2011, and then re-breaking them in 2012 (512.7 YPG; 533 points; 1,405 rec. yards; 18 TD catches).
Hopkins heads to Houston holding Clemson marks in career receiving yards (3,020) and touchdowns (27), 100-yard receiving games (12), among more single-game records.
Sammy Watkins’ production almost a given in his former boundary spot, Swinney identified the junior trio of Adam Humphries, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant to share the load in keeping the offensive numbers trending up.
“Really expect a combination of those three,” Swinney said, “or one of those guys to really step up, emerge and fill that void from Nuk.
“I know they're glad he's gone. That's for sure, because they've had a hard time beating that guy out.”
On the post-spring depth chart, Peake holds the No. 1 spot in Jaron Brown’s old place, while Humphries moves up to the top in Watkins’ old position. Humphries was one of four Tigers to catch 40 passes last year, with Peake the next best (25).
Bryant, who averaged 30.5 yards per catch with four touchdowns in 2012, sits behind Watkins at the “9” position.
“These guys have worked hard and I'm excited to see them seize the moment in this opportunity that they have,” Swinney said. “But they're all really talented players, and I don't have any doubt they'll be productive.”
Clemson’s rushing yard production has gone up each of the last three seasons, by 226 yards a year, and Ellington ran for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons for only the third time in school history in that span.
Senior Rod McDowell was a distant third behind Ellington (212) and Boyd (186) in carries (83), but averaged a team-best 5.1 yards per attempt (min. 15) with five touchdowns last year.
“Rod McDowell was a guy that was just critical to our success last year,” Swinney said. “Really had some big moments for us. Was huge in the bowl game for us…He's very confident and just has developed nicely as a player since he arrived at Clemson.”
Junior D.J. Howard, who took a step back last season due to injuries, had a “great” spring and sophomore Zac Brooks, who played 65 snaps with 125 rushing yards as a freshman, an “excellent” spring, per the coach.
“I feel good about all three of them,” he said. “It will be a little bit more of a committee approach, and I'm perfectly fine with that. All three of them can do some special things, I think.”
That committee could grow by two as well, with the addition of four-star prospect tailbacks Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye in fall camp.
"I'm excited about the team," Swinney said. "We're a long way away from being a great team right now. But I think we've got good ingredients and it should be a fun group to coach."