CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney can enter the summer knowing he’s answered most of the questions he had before Clemson opened spring camp.
Clemson wrapped up spring ball on Saturday afternoon, capped off by a 14-13 win for the White team. The running back room looks like the deepest group on the roster, even after losing the top rusher in ACC history, Travis Etienne. The offensive line, which was missing its starting left guard, still has more depth to work with than it did when the Tigers lost in the College Football Playoff semifinals. And just for kicks, Saturday seemed looked like the beginnings of what can be a special Clemson defense.
” It was a great game, you know, very competitive, a lot of fun, good spirit, great enthusiasm,” Swinney said. “And you know, just want to see the guys compete. It’s always interesting when you split the team up. And it’s like I told those guys, I said ‘you guys in orange, those guys in white making those plays, they’re on your team, you guys in white, those guys in orange making those plays, they’re on your team.’
“I thought both teams competed it was fun to see that the White Team finally put a few plays together, saw some really good plays by a bunch of people.”
But those are all positive takeaways from a game where the same team scrimmaged against itself. The new biggest question entering this summer will be at the quarterback position. D.J. Uiagalelei spot as Clemson’s starting quarterback has never been in doubt, but the depth behind him has. Those questions will be under a microscope this summer, however, after Swinney announced in his press conference that backup quarterback Taisun Phommachanh likely tore Achilles in the spring game.
But there will obviously be a lot of time to digest and analyze the quarterback position in the coming months. On the heels of the spring game, ClemsonSports.com is looking at the lessons learned from the spring game.
Wide receiver room has tons of potential
With Justyn Ross and Frank Ladson Jr. both sitting out, someone needed to step up. The consensus guess was E.J. Williams would put on a show.
Seems like Ajou Ajou and Joseph Ngata had different ideas. Ngata (Orange) and Ajou (White) each led their team in receiving yards. Ajou led all pass catchers with six catches for 102 yards and a score, while Ngata had six receptions for 83 yards.
Dabo Swinney said earlier this spring “we all know what Joseph Ngata can do.” Heading into Saturday, we really didn’t know much other than through his two season, where he had 24 receptions for 323 yards. Not exactly eye-catching stats. But paired with Uiagalelei on the Orange team, Ngata exploded and was making plays all over the field.
Ajou, on the other hand, had two career catches in his freshman season. With a lanky 6-foot-3, 215 pound frame, he oozes with potential and it showed on Saturday. His football knowledge still has some room for improvement, but his future flashed on Saturday.
“He can make plays,” Swinney said. “He’s a natural when it comes to attacking the ball, his confidence is at an all time high. … He’s the best version of him that we’ve seen. And you saw some things out there today that we’ve seen on the practice field. From a confidence standpoint, he still makes some mistakes. He busted a couple of times out there today didn’t run the right route or converted when he shouldn’t have converted. So those are things.
“But here’s what I love about: He’s playing full speed. He’s not hesitate. He’s he loves to coach and loves to compete. And he’s a unique guy. He’s, he’s very different from some of the other guys that we have. And I think I think he’s a guy would be able to use it in a lot of different ways as he goes through his career. He’s got four years left as well. So now he’s an exciting young prospect.
Marcus Tate can contribute on o-line
Clemson gave a glimpse at the depth of the offensive line its been working on this spring. On the orange team, from left to right, was Jordan McFadden, Bryn Tucker, Mason Trotter, John Williams and Mitchell Mayes. For the white squad, from left to right, it was Marcus Tate, Paul Tchio, Hunter Rayburn, Will Putnam and Walker Parks.
Tate took the spotlight, however, holding up his own at the left tackle position against Tyler Davis and Myles Murphy. A four-star early enrollee, he might now be in the mix to play at tackle along with Parks and McFadden.
“He’s unusual kid in the offensive line,” Swinney said. “I mean, he’s still technically a high school senior, you know, as a mid year, but he’s just you know, he’s unusual. And physically, he’s gifted and he’s further along than most you know freshman coming in. And OL, it’s incredibly difficult position to play but but where he’s so unique is his his mental capacity. His knowledge of the game, how quickly he picks things up. It’s not the norm, he’s very uncommon when it comes to to that part of his development at this point.”
Even with a solid chunk of its defense missing, Clemson’s defense was maybe the most consistent group of the day. Both Venables brothers were all over the place for their respective teams, and early enrollee Nate Wiggins looked the part of a highly-touted recruit in the secondary.
Clemson’s spring is over, but the focus now shifts to the fall.
“Now, this is starting Monday, what we call transformation phase,” Swinney said. “And that’s our team. And it’s chemistry. It’s leadership. It’s, it’s everybody’s individual personal commitment to go do what they got to do to come back and in August.”