Depth Chart, In-Depth: Tight Ends
First Up: Sophomore Stanton Seckinger (6-4, 210, Isle of Palms, S.C.) will open preseason camp as the starter at tight end, stepping up into the spot vacated by junior Sam Cooper (6-5, 250, Brentwood, Tenn.), who suffered an ACL injury in the Orange-White spring game.
Seckinger, a converted wide receiver, played a situational role last season, when he appeared in eight games and 88 snaps and caught four passes, including one for a touchdown. As a high school senior at Porter-Gaud in Charleston, he set a record and led the state with 1,833 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Cooper, by far the most experienced of Clemson's tight ends, played in all 13 games, started three, and had 10 receptions for 93 yards in 314 snaps last season. He is a veteran of 27 games in his career. At what point Cooper will be available this season is not certain.
Also contributing at the position as the Tigers' starting 'fullback' will be senior Darrell Smith (6-2, 250, Gadsden, Ala.), who has played in 36 games and started seven in his career, while logging 180 snaps, primarily as an extra blocker. He is also a special teams regular.
Next In Line: True freshman Jordan Leggett (6-6, 240, Navarre, Fla.) should challenge Seckinger for the starting spot next month. He enrolled in January after graduating early from high school and was outstanding throughout spring practice, earning praise from his coaches for picking up and executing his assignments. Out of high school, Leggett - who was recruited by Chad Morris - was ranked as the No. 7 tight end in the nation by ESPN.
In The Pipeline: Redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCullough (6-3, 230, Fort Mill, S.C.) is listed third on the depth chart. He had his moments during the spring, as he adjusts from playing primarily as a running back and receiver at Nation Ford High. He was a Shrine Bowl performer as a senior and was ranked as the nation's No. 26 tight end by Scout.
More Help On The Way: Clemson has commitments from two highly-rated tight ends for its 2014 recruiting class: Milan Richard (6-2, 235, Savannah, Ga.) and Cannon Smith (6-5, 235, Columbia, S.C.)
Richard, the nephew of former Georgia star Herschel Walker, is ranked as the nation's No. 2 tight end by Rivals, while Smith - the son of former Clemson defensive end and current board of trustees member Bill Smith - is rated as the nation's No. 3 'Y' position TE by ESPN.
For 2015, Clemson has an offer out to one tight end - Garrett Williams of Orlando, Fla.
Overall Outlook: Long on potential, short on experience, with questions about physicality. Over the past two seasons, the tight end position has emerged as a dynamic playmaking position in Clemson's offense, with Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford accounting for 90 receptions and 16 touchdowns in the starting role. Chad Morris and Danny Pearman have recruited specifically for the position with the addition of Leggett and McCullough, while Seckinger switched to tight end before last season and showed promise. The plan was for the trio to work themselves into various roles behind Cooper, who was beginning to emerge as an all-purpose playmaker after serving primarily as a blocker his first two seasons.
The position changed drastically when Cooper went down with a knee injury in the spring game. Seckinger is listed as the starter going to into preseason camp, but lacks the bulk, at this point, to be an every-down tight end. Leggett has the size and the tools, with excellent downfield speed and good hands; but, according to his coaches, is still growing into the physical demands of the position. Smith, the most physical of players at the position, will probably be asked to expand his role this season. Overall, look for Morris and Pearman to take a by-committee approach to the position, using each player according to his abilities and game situations. In the long run, Clemson will be fine here, but the earlier Cooper can return, the better for the Tigers in 2013.