After a disappointing end to the 2019 season, the Clemson Tigers have wasted no time in their preparation for the 2020 season. With spring practices well underway, we’ll take a look at the five most intriguing off-season questions facing the 2020 Tigers.
1. Who will replace the four offensive linemen that have moved on?
The Tigers have seen six key offensive contributors make their way out of Death Valley including four offensive linemen. Though losses of wide receivers Tee Higgins and Deondre Overton will hurt, Joseph Ngata, Frank Ladson and EJ Williams figure to slot into those vacancies with relative ease. On the offensive line, Jordan McFadden, Will Putnam, Matt Bockhorst, Cade Stewart and Blake Vinson will be in the mix for the starting jobs. While it’s reasonable to expect a learning curve for the new starters, many of them have significant playing time under their belt already. Dabo Swinney and the Clemson coaching staff’s insistence on giving backups a chance to play in blowout games will prove valuable for the young 2020 offensive line. Anchored by one of the best linemen in the country in Jackson Carman, the offensive line should be able to maintain their elite status.
2. Who will fill holes in the linebacking core and secondary?
Defensively, the Tigers will take a big hit to their secondary and linebacking core. Given how important Isaiah Simmons was to the 2019 unit, losing himmay be the toughest replacement the Tigers have had to face in years With fellow linebacker Chad Smith also moving on, only James Skalski returns from last year’s linebacking core. The Tigers also lost a potential replacement earlier in the offseason with Logan Rudolph’s surprise retirement. The Tigers will look to Tyler Venables, son of Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables, and Baylon Spector to shoulder most of the vacated workload. In the secondary, the Tigers will look to replace three of their four starters. Nolan Turner figures to slot in at one of the safety positions while Lannden Zanders and Joseph Charleston are the leading candidates to fill the other safety spot. A number of players including Sheridan Jones and Andrew Booth will battle for the starting cornerback spot opposite Derion Kendrick. After leaning on the linebacking core and secondary as the strength of their defense in 2019, the Tiger defensive line figures to be the defense’s strength in 2020. With Venables at the helm, the 2020 defense will look to continue their reign of dominance.
3. Which incoming freshmen are most likely to have an impact in 2020?
The glaringly obvious answer here is Bryan Bresee. Coming in at 6’ 5”, 290 pounds and the No. 1 player in the 2020 recruiting class, Bresee has the ability to get significant playing time from day one. Having enrolled early, Bresee will also benefit from having an extra semester of Clemson coaching before his freshman year begins in the fall. Fellow defensive linemen Myles Murphy and DeMonte Capehart are also candidates for playing time on the defensive line. Though the Tigers have depth on the defensive line, Bresee, Murphy and Capehart may all find their way onto the field for meaningful snaps in 2020. Linebacker Trenton Simpson is another candidate for immediate impact given the two open starting linebacker spots.
4. How will the Tiger offense be affected by the departure of former Co-Offensive Coordinator Jeff Scott?
It was only a matter of when, not if, one of their co-offensive coordinators would move on from Death Valley. Scott has been consistently clear that he was open to accepting a head coaching job elsewhere, allowing the Tigers to prepare for life without him. Though Scott’s work with wide receivers and on the recruiting trail will be missed, Tony Eliott and the Tiger staff are well equipped to cover the loss. Elliott has always been the play-caller for the offense, so from a playbook perspective, the transition should be seamless. Tyler Grisham, who played receiver for the Tigers and in the NFL, will take over as the new wide-receivers coach in Scott’s absence. Though the position will be a new one for Grisham, his experience as a Clemson player and coach should allow him to succeed in his new role.
5. How will the Tigers respond after a disappointing end to the 2019 season?
For many of the players on the 2019 team, the loss to LSU in the National Championship was their first collegiate loss. For those that had experienced defeat, it had been over two years since their last loss to Alabama in the 2017 Sugar Bowl. Thus, it’s reasonable to wonder how the Tigers will handle the loss in the off-season. Early reports have been overwhelmingly positive. From just moments after the loss, the narrative being told by Swinney has been that the Tigers handled the loss extremely well. Players are more motivated than ever to return to the game’s biggest stage in 2021 after falling short this January. Though Swinney and the Tigers never seem to have a shortage of motivational fuel, the loss should certainly push the Tigers to new heights as they prepare for the 2020 season.