CLEMSON — A question mark entering fall camp still doesn’t seem to have many answers.
Clemson isn’t quite sure who will be counted upon to shut down opposing wide receivers. The team’s depth chart, released Monday, reflected co-starters at each of its cornerback positions entering the eighth-ranked Tigers’ opener with No. 5 Georgia on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland are listed together at one spot, and Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins share the other cornerback duties. Each player enters his fourth year in the program — Robinson’s a true senior, the others are redshirt juniors.
All four players have logged between 23 and 25 career games, and all have starting experience, but none separated himself in the eyes of defensive backs coach Mike Reed, defensive coordinator Brent Venables or head coach Dabo Swinney.
Complicating matters is true freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander’s slow recovery from a pulled groin, suffered early in camp. Alexander, the prized product of Clemson’s signing class of 2013, has been ruled out for the Georgia game, and his long-term status is uncertain.
Safeties Travis Blanks and Robert Smith add stability to a secondary many are doubting, especially with first-team preseason all-ACC quarterback Aaron Murray running Georgia’s offense.
“We’ve prepared just as much as anybody else has. I don’t see us failing, because we’ve prepared well for this game,” Blanks said. “Time will tell. We’ll see Saturday night.”
The only other position on the depth chart containing the “or” designation is at defensive tackle. Grady Jarrett is one unquestioned starter, and he’ll be joined on the defense’s first drive by either Josh Watson or DeShawn Williams.
Freshman Jayron Kearse is questionable for Saturday with a shoulder injury, so fellow rookie Korrin Wiggins is listed as the starting nickel back in third-down passing formations.
Wiggins surrenders three inches and 20 pounds to Kearse. Clemson could also ask weakside linebacker Quandon Christian to become a third cornerback instead of bringing in Wiggins.
Clemson’s offensive depth chart had no real shockers. Roderick McDowell is the starting tailback, backed up by Zac Brooks. Darrell Smith will get the nod at a banged-up tight end position, in front of Stanton Seckinger. Ryan Norton is the offensive line’s lone new starter, beating out Jay Guillermo to start at center.
Receivers Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant represent the top line for quarterback Tajh Boyd’s passes.
There are just four true freshmen on the two-deep: Wiggins, safety Jadar Johnson, defensive end Shaq Lawson and wide receiver Mike Williams. All are backups.
Five players have been ruled out for the opener: Alexander, tight end Sam Cooper (ACL), tailback Tyshon Dye (back), offensive lineman Joe Gore (knee) and defensive tackle Scott Pagano (ankle).
Kearse and tight end Jordan Leggett are questionable, even though Leggett sprained his MCL on Aug. 13, initially a three- to four-week prognosis.
Quarterback Chad Kelly is listed as probable, not even 41/2 months removed from tearing his ACL in Clemson’s spring game. He expects to dress, but playing would be unlikely with Boyd and Cole Stoudt ready to handle quarterback duties.
‘In the air’
For the past week to 10 days, Chad Morris has gone out for a lunchtime jog and taken note of the students setting up camp surrounding Memorial Stadium.
On Monday, the lines of tents were replaced by lines of fans waiting eagerly to finally pick up their tickets (perhaps skipping class to do so), and that enthusiasm continued to impress Clemson’s offensive coordinator.
“It says a lot about our university. Just the excitement that our student body brings — they’re passionate and we love it,” Morris said. “We’re gonna need them rockin’ it Saturday night, and they will be. A lot of excitement — you can feel it in the air.”
The veterans’ advice to younger players: don’t get sucked into the hype during game week — a tricky task considering College GameDay is coming to town.
“It’s going to be great running down the hill in that type of environment,” senior left tackle Brandon Thomas said. “You only get so many opportunities in life to do this.”
Gallman, Dye to redshirt?
Morris seemed more sure than ever that he’d prefer to redshirt both of the Tigers’ highly-touted freshman rushers, Dye and Wayne Gallman.
“That’s the plan going in, but that can change in a hurry,” Morris said. “We’re extremely excited about what Wayne has done during fall camp. He’s available.”
Once a first-year player is on the field and the ball is snapped, he loses his redshirt. The only way Morris would see the redshirt being removed would be “significant injury” to one of the top three backs: McDowell, Brooks or walk-on C.J. Davidson. Morris doesn’t consider a series or even a whole game a significant injury.
If Morris does change his mind?
“You and I will know about the same time,” Morris said. “I might know a little bit earlier than you do, just about a step earlier, that’s about it. There he goes, when I’m the first one sending him in.
“He will be ready to play, I’ll tell you that. But we would like to hold him if we possibly could.”