CLEMSON — Unlike last year, there was no signing day drama at Clemson. Nearly all of Clemson’s 20 signees Wednesday had committed months ago.
But Clemson did put the finishing touches on its second straight top 10 recruiting class, the first time that’s happened since the late 1980s under coach Danny Ford. After signing a consensus top 10 class last year, the 2012 Clemson class ranked No. 7 in the country, according to ESPN.
Wednesday was less about sweaty-palmed moments and last-minute decisions and more about Clemson filling significant needs along its offensive and defensive fronts. Half of Clemson’s 20 signees are linemen, a critical influx of talent considering Clemson graduates three starters from both the offensive and defensive fronts.
“The lines were a major area of emphasis and we did an outstanding job filling those needs,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We are going to have youth on the fronts on both sides. Nothing is set in stone (regarding the depth chart) so there will be opportunity.”
Swinney said he was most excited about having a program-record eight early enrollees in this class.
Four of those players are offensive linemen.
They will have a spring practice to begin learning the offense.
The early offensive line enrollees include four-star tackle Isaiah Battle, who has the frame (6-7, 270) and athleticism to play left tackle; Jay Guillermo, ESPN’s No. 1 center prospect; and Oliver Jones (6-6, 320).
The Tigers lone late addition was 6-3, 306-pound guard D.J. Reader, who is perhaps the most interesting prospect in the class, because he will also play baseball at Clemson. Reader can throw in the low 90s as a right-handed pitcher and also plays first base.
Swinney said Reader picked Clemson in part because Swinney allowed former starting quarterback Kyle Parker to play baseball and football in 2009 and 2010.
Some of the enthusiasm for Clemson’s class was eroded by division rival Florida State, which will challenge Clemson’s young linemen in the coming years with the No. 1 defensive tackle (Eddie Goldman) and defensive end (Mario Edwards).
Clemson added three defensive tackles in the class and the 6-4, 290-pound Carlos Watkins, a four-star prospect, is the best of that group and should help immediately.
Swinney said four-star defensive end Shaq Lawson could also play early.
Clemson’s other area of need is running back.
Swinney said suspended running back Mike Bellamy is on track to rejoin the team in the spring, but also noted four-star signee Zac Brooks, a hybrid running back and receiver, is enrolled and could immediately help at running back.
Clemson also added four-star signees like quarterback Chad Kelly, wide receiver Germone Hopper and defensive back Travis Blanks, the No. 2 safety in the country according to ESPN.
“We are built to make a run,” Swinney said. “We are building it through recruiting.”
Chad Kelly is the perfect fit for the Tigers' offense under coordinator Chad Morris. 'He has the highest ceiling, athletically, of this (QB) group,' ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said of Kelly. 'He's a tremendous athlete.' It's unlikely Kelly pushes starter Tajh Boyd in 2012 but don't be surprised if Morris creates some packages for Kelly to run this fall. He could be the face of the program down the road.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY:
The biggest loss occurred last month when five-star DE Jonathan Bullard chose Florida over Clemson. Bullard was thought by some to be leaning toward the Tigers.
WILL PLAY RIGHT AWAY:
Look for four-star defensive end Carlos Watkins to play early. The 6-4, 290-pound lineman is so athletic his high school coach occasionally lined him up as a wide receiver last fall.
KEEP AN EYE ON:
Most recruiting services ranked safety Travis Blanks as the top player in the Clemson class. ESPN ranked Blanks as the No. 2 safety in the nation.