Clemson gets good look at youngsters
CLEMSON -- Clemson began a crash course August camp Friday evening as it needs its first-year football players ready in a hurry. Half of the roster -- 42 of 85 scholarship players -- comprises of redshirt and true freshmen.
Many eyes were on No. 5, No. 7 and No. 19. They are the numbers of running back Mike Bellamy (No. 5) and receivers Sammy Watkins (No. 7) and Charone Peake (No. 19), whose replica jerseys could be big sellers in the campus book store -- sooner rather than later.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said last month he would aggressively prep the talented freshmen skill players this camp so they could be game ready early in the season. Despite never taking a snap in a college practice, Watkins and Peake worked along with sophomore receiver Bryce McNeal on the second-team offense Friday. They are among the 27 to 30 freshmen head coach Dabo Swinney said will play this season.
"The one thing that jumps out at you is the speed and athleticism (of the freshmen)," Swinney said. "They have great size and a lot of them are really strong. We have a better starting point with these guys than maybe we had with (freshmen) in the past.
"One of the biggest concerns I have is development of depth. We have a great schedule and installation plan laid out. But we reserve the right to tweak that if we feel like we are getting too far ahead or, hey, maybe we can be a little more aggressive with the way these guys are grasping it."
Count quarterback Tajh Boyd among those who believes the staff might have to adjust in favor of being aggressive with the freshman.
"They are definitely going to play. It just depends on how seriously they take it," Boyd said. "The receivers fly, they make plays, they run good routes, they look older than they really are … Then take a guy like Mike Bellamy -- he sees a little hole and he cracks it."
Morris was surprised at how little speed the offense had during spring practice.
The speedy and sizeable Watkins (6-1, 180 pounds, 4.4-second 40-yard dash) and Peake (6-3, 200 pounds, 4.5-second 40) could soon be pressing first-team receivers Jaron Brown and Marquan Jones for playing time to give the Clemson passing game a vertical element.
"We threw them in the grease right off, we are going to see how they respond," Morris said. "You have to get a gauge; you have to get a starting point. … What I saw from two hours of practice is we are not slowing down."
Sophomore receiver DeAndre Hopkins has likely secured a first-team receiving role after compiling two 100-yard games down the stretch as a freshman. Hopkins' success might make coaches less hesitant to go to young players like Watkins and Peake early. Hopkins did not start until Week 4 last season.
"Whoever the best guys are, that's who is going to be in the starting lineup," Swinney said. "Anything is possible. It wouldn't surprise me at all if someone won a job."
Said Boyd: "Half the roster is freshmen; those guys have to grow up fast."
Berkeley High product Andre Ellington practiced with the team for the first time since his December foot surgery. Ellington looked to be 100 percent healthy. "I had a little fear in my heart," Ellington said. "But I made it through practice. I wasn't timid at all."