Fall camp is finally here! We can finally take a break from discussing conference realignment, CFP expansion, NIL, transfer portal and all of the chaos of the off-season and talk about the Tigers and the upcoming season! The 2021 Tigers take the practice field for the first time at 4:30 on Friday, and we’ll have our interview with Dabo at 3:15. I’ll also have post-practice player interviews and practice photos this evening, so stay tuned! But first, here’s a quick preview of what to watch in camp this month.
To begin, many have speculated about how much different camp might look and feel this year because in May, the NCAA reduced the number of full-pad practices teams can have in August and also outlawed any drills that involve straight-line contact. I don’t think the reduction of full pads will make much difference for the Tigers, and James Skalski confirmed that opinion when I asked him about it a couple weeks ago, but they may have to forego or adjust some of their staple drills, such as the “Paw” or “Win” drills. They will also be limited to just two scrimmages. Here are a few other storylines to watch...
People keep asking about Justyn Ross and whether there is any news about his playing status for the fall. Well, if you believe Dabo, there is nothing to know. Dabo told us on Media Day a couple weeks ago that all the medical stuff is just a formality, and they are simply waiting for all the i's to be dotted and t’s crossed. In other words, Ross will be ready to suit up and play in the opener against Georgia. He has been doing everything since the spring except for full contact, and Dabo says he looks and feels great. I cannot wait to see him line up in the slot position this season! It’s pretty rare that you see a slot receiver with his size—a completely different body type than Amari Rodgers or Hunter Renfrow. Dabo and Tony Elliott will line Ross up all over the field, but it’s going to be fun to watch him at slot with Ngata and Ladson/Williams playing boundary and field! Sophomore EJ Williams told me last spring that he can’t wait to be on the field at the same time as his former high school teammate, Justyn Ross. Also, Dabo was working Ross on punt returns last spring, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses in that role as well.
We got to see some of the exciting new crop of freshmen in the spring, including RB’s Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, LB Jeremiah Trotter, DE Cade Denhoff, TE Jake Briningstool, WR’s Beaux and Dacari Collins and S Andrew Makuba, and it will be fun to see how they compete in camp this month. I’m also looking forward to seeing the rest of the freshman class in person, such as LB Barrett Carter, DT Payton Page and QB Will Taylor, who will come in as the No.3 quarterback on the depth chart due to the injury of Taisun Phommachanh at the end of the spring game. Taylor was selected in the MLB Draft but, unlike fellow Clemson QB commit and MLB third-rounder Bubba Chandler, opted to play two sports for the Tigers instead. Preferred walk-on Billy Wiles is also now on campus to provide depth to the Tigers’ quarterback room.
The Tigers are in a much better place up front than they were this time last year. With very little depth and experience behind the starting offensive line, the incoming freshmen didn’t even have a spring or summer workouts to gain experience and cohesion, and that manifested itself at times in the season. It’s a completely different story this time around. The Tigers are talented and will go 10 or 11 deep on the offensive line this season. They added some very talented freshmen to the mix last spring, including Ryan Linthicum and Marcus Tate, and fellow freshmen Dietrick Pennington and Tristan Leigh are now on campus as well. Senior LG Matt Bockhorst is the leader of the group, and Jordan McFadden has moved from right tackle to left tackle to replace Jackson Carman, who was drafted in the second round by the Bengals.
WHO EMERGERS AT RUNNING BACK?
Based on seniority and the fall camp depth chart, Lyn-J Dixon is the starter after patiently biding his time behind future Hall of Famer Travis Etienne. Dixon is an able back, but I'm not sure he doesn't get supplanted by sophomore Kobe Pace and/or freshman Will Shipley at some point. Pace had a great spring, and Shipley is going to be a superstar. It's not a question of if but when. Like I told you back when he committed as a recruit, think Christian McCaffrey.
The X man had a tough 2020, missing most of the season due to COVID, asthma and other illness. He was overweight and out of shape, but he was still one of the Tigers' most productive players when he did play, recording 3.5 sacks in just 119 snaps (essentially 2 games). Reports on Thomas from Dabo and Venables have been fantastic, saying he's in the best place he's been in his career. He's worked his tail off to shed all that excess weight and has a focus and determination like he's never had in his time at Clemson. I can't wait to see what he does in camp and this fall!
You’d be hard pressed to find a true freshman who made a bigger splash last season than the ACC’s Newcomer of the Year, and yet the coaches have raved about how much better he is now than he was last fall. That’s almost hard to fathom, but I can’t wait to see how his body has changed after 6 months in the weight room. The Tigers’ defense is loaded at all 3 levels, and you could not have a better leader than "Super Senior" James Skalski. I expect this to be their best unit since 2018 with Wilkins, Ferrell et al—perhaps even better!
I’ll have much more as camp unfolds, including insights from the first practice tonight, so stay tuned! For a copy of the fall camp depth chart, click HERE. And be sure to check back this evening for our interview with Dabo and players as well as photos from practice!
Never miss the latest news from CUTigers!
Join our free email list