CLEMSON - For now, Dabo Swinney will look to surround his senior quarterback with other veterans on the offense.
Senior wide receiver Adam Humphries, senior running back D.J. Howard, junior wide receiver Charone Peake and senior tight end Sam Cooper were four of the five starting skill players listed on Clemson's summer depth chart released Tuesday, the day summer conditioning begins for the Tigers.
Humphries (97 career catches in 40 games in the slot) is not a surprise, but Howard, Peake and Cooper are intriguing selections at three different positions with younger talent waiting in the wings.
Howard (581 yards, 4.4 per carry, in 36 career games) is the eldest of the running backs, and for now is beating out juniors Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman. Clemson similarly rolled with then-senior Roderick McDowell in 2013 at a position without a clear stud, and McDowell rewarded the Tigers with a 1,000-yard rushing campaign.
Peake (37 receptions in 29 games) tore his ACL after just two games last fall, receiving a medical redshirt and retaining two more years of eligibility at the same receiver spot occupied last year by Biletkinoff Award finalist and No. 4 NFL Draft pick Sammy Watkins.
Cooper (17 receptions in 39 games) saw spare action this past season upon tearing his ACL in the 2013 spring game. He's got the nod entering summer over junior Stanton Seckinger, who led returning pass-catchers with four touchdowns in 2013, and sophomore Jordan Leggett.
The only less-experienced skill player on the starting line is sophomore deep threat Mike Williams, who has shown a nice rapport with starting quarterback Cole Stoudt.
The three freshman receivers who enrolled in January are listed as reserves: Kyrin Priester is backing up Peake (along with Germone Hopper, who was suspended for spring practices), while Artavis Scott backs up Humphries and Demarre Kitt backs up Williams.
Highly-touted passer Deshaun Watson, as expected, is listed as Stoudt's backup.
The starting offensive line entering summer also brandishes experience. From left to right, it's junior tackle Isaiah Battle, senior guard David Beasley, junior center Ryan Norton, senior guard Kalon Davis, and a two-way battle between juniors Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony at right tackle. Beasley and Anthony are suspended for the Aug. 30 season opener at Georgia.
On the defensive side, the status quo was pretty much unchanged from the April 12 spring game. The line is laden with seniors, buttressed by ends Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes and tackles Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson, plus junior tackle D.J. Reader and sophomore end Shaq Lawson.
Middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, who led the 2013 Tigers with 131 tackles, keeps his spot, as do safeties Robert Smith and Jayron Kearse. As Swinney hinted near the end of spring, his top cornerbacks are freshman Mackensie Alexander and sophomore Cordrea Tankersley, who have logged a combined 21 career snaps on defense.
Senior Tony Steward is holding off sophomore Ben Boulware for the time being at that second 3-down linebacker. The 11th defensive spot is cluttered, with linebackers T.J. Burrell and Dorian O'Daniel and nickel backs Travis Blanks and Korrin Wiggins all listed as co-starters.
Bradley Pinion will return as punter, and Ammon Lakip will take over kicking duties from graduate Chandler Catanzaro. Humphries will return punts and Peake is the key kickoff returner.
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