2014 Clemson Preview: What You Need To Know
Clemson DE Vic Beasley
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Clemson (Getty Images)
2014 Clemson Preview
What You Need To Know...
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Chad Morris is still a coordinator at Clemson. That’s the good news. However, just four starters return to Morris’ highly successful up-tempo, no-huddle attack. Record-setting QB Tajh Boyd, NFL-ready receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, 1,000-yard rusher Roderick McDowell and three veteran linemen … all gone. While it’s not as if the Tigers haven’t had to retool in the past, this season could look like an overhaul at times. Senior Cole Stoudt will get the ball from Morris following a strong spring. His supporting cast? Check back in August. Clemson has a glut of backs and receivers vying for snaps. Fortunately, the tight ends will be deep, WR Mike Williams has the look of a budding star and WR Charone Peake will begin approaching a high ceiling once he recovers from a knee injury. Now that the team’s two best linemen, Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley, have graduated, the staff is looking for Isaiah Battle to slide over to left tackle and begin playing like a next-level pass protector.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The 2012 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia feels like a very long time ago, doesn’t it? Since getting spanked, 70-33, the Tigers have done an impressive about-face, with coordinator Brent Venables leading the charge. Clemson has gone from 81st in scoring D in 2012 to 24th last season. And the best may be yet to come. The Tigers are loaded with enough talent to rank among the program’s stingiest defenses in ages. They’re as deep as anyone in the trenches, with Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Corey Crawford spearheading a pass rush that’ll torment opposing quarterbacks throughout the season. At linebacker, All-American-caliber senior Stephone Anthony will get much-needed help from overdue senior Tony Steward. If there’s a red flag of the defensive unit, it’s at cornerback. Clemson needs to replace last season’s starters, which could leave the secondary vulnerable against quality passers. Hopes are high that ballyhooed redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander can provide an instant injection of talent after being forced to sit out his rookie year with an injury.
Players You Need To Know
1. DE Vic Beasley, Sr.
Beasley made the most of his first opportunity to start by evolving into one of the nation’s scariest pass rushers. The 6-2, 235-pound end in a linebacker’s body schooled opposing linemen to the tune of 44 tackles, 23 stops behind the line, 13 sacks, six pass breakups and four forced fumbles. Beasley explodes off the snap, often closing so quickly that quarterbacks don’t have adequate time to throw the ball away. And when he’s not appearing in the stat sheet, he’s commanding so much attention that it allows his teammates to make plays.
2. LB Stephone Anthony, Sr.
Anthony has fulfilled the enormous potential that preceded his arrival from high school. And he’s decided to pad his legacy by returning for his senior year. Anthony earned third-team All-ACC with a Tiger-high 131 tackles, 13.5 stops for loss, four sacks and an Orange Bowl-clinching pick against Ohio State. Despite being a stout 6-2 and 245 pounds, he’s arguably Clemson’s most explosive defender, ranging far and wide to leave an imprint. With proper exposure, Anthony has an All-American ceiling in 2014.
3. DT Grady Jarrett, Sr.
No one on the current roster does more with less than Jarrett. He arrived with only modest expectations, a 6-1, 295-pounder, who’s probably not as big as he’s listed. Yet, Jarrett has been a wrecking ball for Clemson over the past two seasons, routinely busting through the gap to blow up plays. In 2013, he could do no better than honorable mention All-ACC, despite amassing 83 tackles, 11 of which were behind the line. Jarrett’s work ethic, upper body strength and quick first step will finally get him noticed in his senior season.
4. QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
The world is about to get to know Stoudt, Tajh Boyd’s attentive backup over the past three seasons. The senior’s next start will be his first, but he has played in 22 career games, completing 86-of-119 throws for 742 yards, eight touchdowns and a pick. In 2013, he completed just under 80% of his passes in mop-up duty. The 6-4, 210-pound Stoudt is accurate through the air, extremely mature and smart and surprisingly inventive when the pocket collapses. In many ways, he’ll be an ideal one-year bridge until Deshaun Watson takes the reins in 2015.
5. OT Isaiah Battle, Jr.
Battle has first-round potential. Now, he has to go out and play like it. While his first two seasons have been uneventful, including just four starts, the consensus around campus is that he can be as good as he wants to be. The 6-7, 290-pounder possesses many of the characteristics of the prototypical left tackle, from his long arms to his good footwork. If Battle can sink his hips on a more consistent basis, the foundation is there for the junior to not only become Clemson’s best lineman, but also one of the ACC’s top blockers.
6. DE Corey Crawford, Sr.
As a junior, Crawford took his first steps toward fulfilling the lofty expectations that preceded his arrival from high school three years ago. The 6-5, 270-pound end started all but a single game, making 52 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, three sacks and a team-high 16 pressures. Crawford has the size and the strength to be an effective run defender. However, he needs to turn more of those hurries into sacks, especially with Vic Beasley sure to get maximum attention on the opposite side.
7. WR Mike Williams, Soph.
Clemson is in the market for an explosive wide receiver to help offset the early departures of Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Williams is first in line to fill the opening. He delivered a table-setting debut with 20 receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns as a three-game starter. Williams not only has length at 6-3 and 205 pounds, but he’ll leap high above defenders to pull the ball down. While just in his second year, he has the raw physical ability to trump rehabbing junior Charone Peake and become the next great Tiger wideout.
8. SS Robert Smith, Jr.
Smith isn’t one of the elite athletes on the Clemson D. He just makes plays, which has earned the respect of the coaching staff. The former high school quarterback is coming off his best season as a Tiger, finishing fourth on the team with 79 tackles as a 13-game starter. The 5-11, 210-pounder possesses the functional strength and the football instincts to mimic a fourth linebacker on running downs. He should be good for another 70-plus tackles this season to go along with a few knockout punches.
9. WR Adam Humphries, Sr.
Sure, the Tigers are looking for some spectacular out of the outside receivers since Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant are gone. In the meantime, Humphries will provide the steady as the program’s young targets gradually develop. The 5-11, 190-pounder has caught 41 balls in each of the last two seasons, increasing his 2013 output to 483 yards and two touchdowns. Humphries plays with a blue-collar demeanor, showcasing reliable mitts and the toughness to fight for extra yards in traffic.
10. CB Mackensie Alexander, RFr.
The buzz about Alexander has steadily grown this offseason, with the crescendo expected in the fall. The blue-chipper would have dodged a redshirt in 2013 had it not been for a nagging groin injury. But now he’s healthy and closing in on a starting job. The 5-11, 185-pound Alexander operates with the confidence, athleticism and natural instincts in coverage to be a smashing success in his debut. Clemson is in the market for a lockdown corner now that Bashaud Breeland is in the NFL.
11. FS Jayron Kearse, Soph.
Travis Blanks began 2013 as the Tigers’ budding star at safety. Kearse ended the year with that designation. Blanks slumped before suffering a season-ending knee injury in November. Kearse picked up the slack with 55 tackles and a team-high four interceptions. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, he has the length and the perspective from centerfield to see things developing that others cannot. Assuming his knee is ready to go by the summer, Blanks is expected to take over nickel back, with Kearse remaining at free safety.