Talented freshmen making redshirt decisions tough on Tigers' coaches

It's a good problem to have when so many are demanding, via performance, to play

Clemson's Jayron Kearse during practice at the Clemson Football Practice Facility.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Jayron Kearse during practice at the Clemson Football Practice Facility.

In Dabo Swinney's first two seasons as Clemson's head coach, the Tigers redshirted better than eight out of every 10 incoming freshmen.

In the last two classes, slightly fewer than half have redshirted.

It's looking like it will be at least another year before the trend swings back in the opposite direction.

Swinney said recently that "ideally" he'd like to invest a year of off-field development in every player who comes in the door.

Realistically, that's probably never going to happen. And certainly not this year.

Swinney's Tigers have taken giant strides over the past four seasons in consistency and attention to detail. They're winning almost all the games they're supposed to win, as well as their share of the tossups on their schedule. They've come to the point where they only occasionally play as an underdog.

In doing so, they've carved out a strong top-20 presence. The Tigers will enter the 2013 season with a consensus No. 8 national rankings - their highest in a quarter century.

The best news is that the Tigers are still in 'getting better' mode. And that brings us back to this year's freshman class.

The coaching staff came out of signing day knowing that it would need help in several areas - primarily at defensive back, where Swinney projected that four members of the eight-man class would play as freshmen. It also appeared likely that a tight end, a defensive end, and wide receiver would also play.

Coming out of the Tigers' second and final stadium scrimmage on Saturday, it appears that the class is shaping up for another 50-50 split, possibly leaning toward more first-year freshmen on the field than on the sidelines.

That breakdown may not be ideal for a mature, consistently self-sustaining program, but it's OK for a program at Clemson's stage of development.

Improved recruiting is showing in more players coming into the program ready to compete and contribute earlier.

Injuries, which impacted the defensive secondary so severely last season, have continued to play a part in this preseason's personnel decisions. Veterans Travis Blanks, Darius Robinson, Martin Jenkins, Robert Smith and Garry Peters have all missed time with nagging injuries.

The one freshman who seemed most sure to challenge for playing time the moment he stepped on the field - cornerback Mackensie Alexander - has hardly practiced at all because of a groin injury suffered in summer workouts.

Meanwhile, Korrin Wiggins has carved out his niche and will definitely play, likely splitting time at the 'sam' linebacker/nickel back spot. Jadar Johnson, who got a head start by enrolling in January, has moved into position as a backup strong safety behind Smith, while Jayron Kearse is a good bet to play at free safety behind Blanks, despite being troubled by a separated should. After his two-interception performance on Saturday, Marcus Edmond may well have earned himself a spot, and Cordrea Tankersley has had impressive moments, as well.

The Tigers came into fall camp not really needing another linebacker. But Swinney's summer prediction that it would be hard to keep Ben Boulware off the field appears to be headed toward realization.

While it's possible that one of the Tigers' two running back signees will play - most likely Wayne Gallman, who has impressed his coaches with his "violent" running style - the emergence of walk-on (and former scholarship track athlete) C.J. Davidson could give the staff another option. Tyshon Dye, a bigger back with speed to burn, may end up sitting because of a nagging back injury that has cost him preseason ctice time.

Jordan Leggett, one of the stars of Clemson's spring practice, will rejoin the tight end crew once he comes off an MCL injury.

Another player who'll almost certainly be on the field is defensive end Shaq Lawson, who, like Leggett and Johnson, got a leg up on the competition as an early enrollee.

At wide receiver, there's a chance both Mike Williams (one of the stars of Saturday's scrimmage with 111 yards and a 50-yard touchdown) and T.J. Green will end up playing as freshmen.

Most likely to redshirt, at this point, are offensive linemen Maverick Morris and Tyrone Crowder.

Among other players on the bubble are linebackers D.J. Greenlee and Dorian O'Daniel, defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko, defensive tackle Scott Pagano, and defensive backs Ryan Carter and Adrian Baker.

Swinney, as he said, would like to redshirt them all. It's a good problem to have when so many are demanding, via performance, to play.

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Comments » 3

rsb8931#286014 writes:

We need defensive backs and it shouldn't matter if they are 17 year old freshman or 40 year old men that came back to college and have some eligibility left. We need corner backs and safeties. Had we had those 8 freshman last year we wouldn't have lost to South Carolina. Keep who can and will help us beat Georgia and Florida State and South Carolina. Red shirt the ones that can help us beat those teams next year. I caught the comment on playing true freshman because they are good. That's a good problem to have. It would be nice to know that all the guys coming in are so good they might all be good enough to start. That is a good problem to have. We have definitely got better players the last 3 years than we ever have before. Have a top 15 recruiting class for about 10 years in a row and you will see something. We are getting close to that right now and we may be there. We got some good players and I think they are being coached very well. Things are looking good for Clemson football.

TigerFan95 writes:

This is Dabo’s fifth full year as head coach. At this point his program should be beyond having to rely on true freshman to fill key spots. Unless Clemson starts oversigning like SC and almost all SEC programs have done for years they will always find themselves short-handed like they are now.

TigerNE writes:

You don't need packed classes, you just need to keep a steady supply season after season. As an example we've done pretty well with receivers for the past 4 or 5 years. We may may be hitting a stride on QB with Kelly following Boyd and Deshaun Watson following Kelly. Maybe we could do better than Stoudt or Schuessler as alternates, but we are certainly in a better position than we have been in a while. We used to stack our defenses better, so there's room for improvement now.

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