Clemson Not Going Anywhere
By BJ Bennett
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Though Clemson has obvious questions, the expectations remain high. Here are five team strengths for Dabo Swinney's 2017 squad.
What Clemson has lost, after winning the national championship, is quite clear and has been well-discussed. Gone are the likes of quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver Mike Williams, linebacker Ben Boulware and tackle Carlos Watkins, among numerous others stars, from a now-legendary group that went 14-1, shutout Ohio State and then topped Alabama in the College Football Playoff Final. Many of those players are currently preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft.
Hardware-in-hand, the Tigers will remain one of the nation's most-talented teams. Though Clemson has obvious questions, the expectations remain high. Below are five team strengths for Dabo Swinney's 2017 squad;
1. A Dominant Defensive Line -- One year after the Tigers led the country with 130 tackles for loss, Clemson will have the best collection of defensive linemen in all of college football. Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are both deserving of pre-season All-American honors, while Clelin Ferrell is one of the top edge-rushers in the ACC. Wilkins compiled 13 tackles for loss a season ago and Lawrence, at 6'5'', 340 pounds, was second on the team with 6.5 sacks. Those three players, all with elite and unique skill sets, give the Tigers a tremendous starting point defensively.
2. Playmakers on the Perimeter -- Even without Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett, Clemson still has an impressive collection of downfield playmakers. Back is Hunter Renfrow, forever a college football legend, after two touchdowns, including the game-winner, against the Crimson Tide; in a pair of title bouts against Alabama, he has 17 receptions and four scores. Get ready for a huge season from Deon Cain. His trends all point to even more production after 38 receptions for 724 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016. Ray-Ray McCloud has 78 career catches as he now becomes an upperclassman.
3. Stability at Offensive Tackle -- Whoever settles in under center will benefit from the return of Mitch Hyatt and Sean Pollard to bookend the offensive line. Hyatt has been a remarkable story as he stepped in from day one at Clemson, twice earning All-ACC honors. Just now a junior, Hyatt has 29 career starts and 2,043 career snaps on his impressive resume. Few in the game are better. Pollard came on strong late last year and took over opposite Hyatt. The Tigers' new quarterback will benefit from consistency on the edge.
4. Linebackers Who Lead -- in senior Dorian O'Daniel and junior Kendall Joseph, Clemson has a pair of playmaking veterans in the middle of its defense. Joseph led the team in solo tackles last fall and finished with 108 total stops. He recorded 12.5 tackles for loss, including 5.5 in the Tigers' final five games. O'Daniel also added ten tackles for loss. Needless to say, replacing Ben Boulware won't be easy, but a pair of notable returnees will help solidify the middle of the field for Clemson.
5. Confidence -- Every step of the way, the Tigers have earned the distinction "defending national champions". Clemson, over the past few years, has defeated the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia Tech and others and should take the field with a continued conviction and swagger. A very real comfortability on the big stage and in close games will only benefit this team.
The Tigers will hold their annual spring game on April 8th.