Clemson will have its annual spring game on Saturday, April 3. This game is a time for the fans and media to get their first look at the 126th Clemson football team. After a disappointing ending to 2020, Clemson looks to get back in the National Championship Game for the fifth time in seven seasons.
This spring has provided great storylines to watch for in practice. The last we saw of Clemson’s secondary was when Justin Fields threw for 385 yards and embarrassed Clemson in New Orleans. Entering the spring, Clemson has lots to look forward to in the development of its somewhat young secondary. After the dismissal of Derion Kendrick and the news of Malcolm Greene needing surgery, the secondary depth got very thin. Throw in Nolan Turner being excused from live drills this spring, as well as Landen Zanders also needing surgery, and the young players of the secondary have gotten plenty of live reps this spring. Freshman Andrew Mukaba is the first player to watch in the spring game this year. He provides depth at safety and could see the field early in the fall. Clemson fans already know what Andrew Booth Jr. brings to the table, but senior Mario Goodrich and junior Sheridan Jones still have something to prove, as they are competing with one another to start alongside Booth at the cornerback position. Fred Davis is another name that comes to mind. As a freshman, he played limited snaps, but he has great length and the size star Clemson cornerbacks, such as A.J Terrell and Trayvon Mullen, usually have. Nate Wiggins, a late signee to the 2021 class after decommitting from LSU, is also a young cornerback to watch this spring. Wiggins, just like Davis, has the size and length needed to play boundary corner. Wiggins is rather lean, though, but could easily see meaningful snaps this fall.
Moving to the offensive side of the ball, with Travis Etienne graduating, Clemson loses arguably the best running back in ACC history, yet C.J Spiller’s running back room is loaded with talent. Lyn-J Dixon has shown sparks of being the lead back, although injuries held him back in 2020. Chez Mellusi has also shown sparks of power and explosion in long runs late in games. Kobe Pace has wowed in spring practice, but some fans will not believe it until they see it on Saturdays. Throw in two freshman running backs in Phil Mafah and Will Shipley, and Spiller, who is in his first year as Clemson’s running backs coach, has his hands full this spring. How the running backs fare in pass protection will certainly be something to watch for in the spring game. Offensive Coordinator Tony Elliot has made it known that if running backs want to see significant snaps, they need to learn pass protection.
Another detail worth paying attention to is which running back provides the most versatility among the group. With Etienne no longer suiting up for the Tigers, the running back group needs to find the next playmaker who can line up anywhere on the field and make big-time plays. My guess is that Pace and Shipley will live up to the spring practice hype and wow the crowd in Death Valley.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line was blamed for most of the offensive problems last year. Whether or not that blame is fair is a whole other conversation. Walker Parks talked to the media earlier this spring and discussed how the offensive line knew they were not physical last year and were manhandled at times. Head Coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have said that this group is way ahead of last year’s group, thanks to having a full spring to work with. One position battle to watch is at the center position. Sophomores Hunter Rayburn and Mason Trotter and freshman Ryan Linthicum are all battling for the spot. Another thing to keep an eye on up front is offensive tackle. It looks as if Jordan McFadden and Walker Parks are the leading candidates for both starting tackle positions, but watch out for Mitchell Mayes as he takes the next step in his development.
Spring is a great time of year and even better when football is back. All Clemson fans should be very eager to see the spring game in Death Valley on April 3.