Defense: Five To Watch
Carlos Watkins, defensive tackle
The Tigers return their starting defensive tackle rotation intact, with seniors Grady Jarrett, Josh Watson and DeShawn Williams, and junior D.J. Reader. They'll be joined by sophomore Carlos Watkins, who won a starting spot in preseason competition before the Georgia game last August, but then missed the final 10 games because of injuries suffered in a serious automobile accident. Watkins was eligible for a medical redshirt, and will be back on the field full-speed this week. A year from now, he and redshirt freshmen Scott Pagano figure to be the Tigers' mainstays inside.
Ben Boulware, linebacker
The state's top-rated player a year ago out of T.L. Hanna High, Boulware earned playing time as a freshman as an indispensable contributor to Clemson's special teams, but saw limited action behind Stephone Anthony at the 'mike' linebacker spot. With Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian both graduated, there is playing time to be had at both the 'will' and 'sam' positions. Position coach Brent Venables will have multiple personnel options, and Boulware has a chance to prove himself too valuable to wait another year for Anthony's departure.
Mackensie Alexander, cornerback
A groin injury suffered during the first week of preseason camp kept the Tigers' top-rated 2013 signee off the field last fall, and eventually required surgery and necessitated a redshirt year. Look for Alexander to hit the ground running this spring and compete for a starting corner spot in the absence of Darius Robinson and Bashaud Breeland. Out of Immokalee, Fla., Alexander was ranked as the nation's No. 4 player by ESPN - the highest-rated Clemson signee since Da'Quan Bowers was ranked No. 1 in 2008.
Shaq Lawson, defensive end
The big man from Daniel High did much more than get his feet wet as a freshman, quickly establishing himself as a regular in the defensive end rotation. The faces remain the same this spring, but look for Lawson to demand an increasing share of the Tigers' playing time. He's already one of the team's best pass rushers, and will be Tigers main man at defensive end in 2015.
Jayron Kearse, safety
After earning Freshman All-America honors in 2012 while playing primarily at the nickel position, Travis Blanks moved to safety and showed flashes of brilliance as a sophomore, but also struggled through some inconsistency and breakdowns - in the process opening the door for Kearse to get some early playing time. Blanks' November ACL injury put Kearse on the field full-time, and he held his own in his baptism of fire. He'll have a chance to further develop into a premier player this spring.