With the ACC Kickoff now in the books, Clemson fans now turn their attention to the actual start of the season, which is a little less than six weeks away.
Tigers fans are well aware of the damage that Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins can cause to any defense. Both are players who can be respectfully feared in their own right, but they aren’t the only guys to keep an eye on for the Clemson Tigers in 2013. Many players on the roster have the potential to have a special 2013.
One of those players is safety Travis Blanks, who will be stepping into a full-time starting role after splitting time with Quandon Christian at the hybrid linebacker/safety position for most of 2012. Blanks flashed plenty of athletic ability and should provide assurance to a secondary that gave up a lot of big plays in the passing game. He could give the Tigers a playmaker that they haven’t had since Deandre McDaniel back in 2009. Blanks received Second Team Freshman All-American honors last season in a limited role, and is an emerging star in this secondary.
Clemson has had a strong history of producing strong defensive linemen throughout its history. Vic Beasley has the potential to become the Tigers’ best edge rusher. Beasley mainly found himself in passing situations last seasons on a rotational basis and still managed to lead the Tigers with eight sacks and finish fourth in the ACC. The former journeyman found his home at defensive end last season after stints at tight end and outside linebacker during his red-shirt freshman season. The biggest question for Beasley will be whether he can put on more weight and keep it; during the spring he was around 232 pounds and planned to get around 245-250 by the season opener.
The Tigers’ linebacker corps is in perhaps the best shape its been in for several seasons. The Tigers have both depth and numbers at the linebacker positions. Kellen Jones, who sat out a year due to NCAA transfer rules after arriving from Oklahoma, drew praise from the coaches last season on the scout team and continued during the spring. Jones is ready to see some action as a Tiger, and while he was third on the post-spring depth chart, he will see time on the field in 2013, especially if he continues to be productive in practice.
The same can be said of middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, who has seen his ups and downs his first two years on campus. Last season, Anthony was pulled in favor of Spencer Shuey at middle linebacker, who was a big part of the Tigers’ gradually improving defense in the second half of 2012. Venables likes the rotation he has at linebacker this season, and looks for improved play in 2013.
On offense, the trio of Adam Humphries, Charone Peake, and Martavis Bryant will be who fans need to pay attention to. Humphries is a sure-handed possession receiver who will receive a bigger role and an opportunity to become one of Boyd’s main security blankets. Peake also showed last season that he has starting potential after catching nabbing 25 receptions for 1,172 yards and two touchdowns. Peake was also recently named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch list, an award given to the nation’s best receiver.
Bryant has been praised by both teammates and coaches alike for his newfound focus, attitude and hard work this offseason. Bryant has flashed big play potential his first few years, and while he caught only 10 balls for 305 yards, he averaged 30.5 yards per catch, and four of those catches went for touchdowns. Bryant’s combination of both size (6-foot-5) and speed could make him the Tigers’ most dangerous deep threat receiver outside of Sammy Watkins. If Bryant’s seven catch, 110 yard performance was any indication, 2013 could be Bryant’s best year as a Tiger.
2013 has the chance to become a special one for the Clemson Tigers. And from the way it sounds, they don’t plan to let up anytime soon. Their journey starts on August 31 when they host the Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs in Death Valley.