Clemson Spring Game
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
CLEMSON - Picture a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon with a Death Valley crowd casually observing and producing collective murmurs during a dull moment. Suddenly, a lanky youngster wearing a No. 4 purple jersey trots onto the field ready to play.
And the crowd goes wild. This is the moment they've waited for, to see highly touted freshman Deshaun Watson command the Tigers' offense.
And there's poor Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly, replaced by potential, the kindly villains in Clemson fans' fantasies of Watson picking up where Tajh Boyd left off. They do their best to look supportive, all the while not liking one bit of it.
That would be super painful if it took place in October. It might. But it's a long shot, since rarely do true freshmen steer a major Division I offense from Day 1.
That, however, would be reality Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Clemson's annual spring game, if not for that pesky cracked collarbone Watson suffered Monday during practice. He'll be out of action for three weeks, expected to recover in time for summer workouts.
Although nobody roots for injury, there is a bright side for Cole and Chad. Saturday's game will be their show.
"It's definitely a benefit to Cole and Chad," head coach Dabo Swinney said, "as far as they're going to get more snaps than what they would have gotten because obviously we would have been spreading those reps three ways."
Here's five things to watch at Clemson's spring scrimmage that begins at 4 p.m. and will be televised by ESPNU:
1. Who takes over for Tajh?
The quarterback is like the lead singer of a band or the A-lister in an action TV series. All eyes are on that figurehead. He's the first one praised or blamed. It's what comes with the territory.
Swinney's embraced the attention on the race to replace Boyd. Swinney and his staff get it. They know water coolers around South Carolina aren't exactly fielding debates on whether Ammon Lakip can be the next Chandler Catanzaro.
Swinney's not going to crown "The Guy" Saturday. And if by some rare occurrence he does, as he likes to say, there's no lifetime contract awarded to the starter.
"It may not settle. It may go into game performance. And if it does, it does," Swinney said. "If we end up playing two of 'em, we play 'em. I don't see us playing three, but you never know. Hopefully we'll be able to say, this is our guy. And then you let it play out."
2. Put 'em in bubble wrap
It will be interesting to see how much contact the coaches want Stoudt and Kelly sustaining with tens of thousands of people in the stadium and hordes more watching on television.
This spring, the QBs have gone "live" to test their physical mettle and see how they respond to the fear of getting hit. Of course, that cost Watson the spring game. Then again, last year, Kelly tore his ACL in the spring scrimmage despite never getting touched by anybody.
Chances are Stoudt and Kelly wear the "no-touching" purple jerseys Saturday. But they'll have to face full contact again this fall.
3. Running men
There are other personnel battles to sort out. Primarily at running back, since there's no clear frontrunner to step in for Roderick McDowell.
Zac Brooks boasts the most talent, D.J. Howard possesses the most experience, and C.J. Davidson's earning more favor from the coaches with his pure speed. Wayne Gallman should get his opportunity too.
Stats in a spring game often are worth about as much as points on "Whose Line is it Anyway?" but it'll be interesting to see if one of those four backs shows some burst and shiftiness in the public eye.
4. Hunt for takedowns
Stephone Anthony's entrenched at middle linebacker, but his partner last year, Spencer Shuey, leaves a major void. Tony Steward and Ben Boulware are waging an intriguing battle there.
As for the third linebacker spot, which also is considered the fifth defensive back, it's about who's healthy in the fall. Korrin Wiggins, Travis Blanks and Martin Jenkins won't play in the spring game, which means T.J. Burrell and Dorian O'Daniel are getting a crack at it.
5. Shutdown corners
Other than quarterback, here's the most interesting positional tussle. Freshman Mackensie Alexander, provided good health, figures a safe bet to start as the boundary corner.
Keep an eye on Cordrea Tankersley, who coaches love as a converted safety with speed to burn. Adrian Baker's also in the mix, while Garry Peters is hoping to recover from a bad hamstring (and opening-game suspension at Georgia) to remain in the mix as the veteran presence.
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