CLEMSON - "Apparently people on the outside don't think a whole lot of us as a team. And that's fine. But that's an indictment on, we lost two guys and that's our whole team. They're questioning everybody else, and they don't think much of them."
You could hear the blend of teeth-grinding and sly anticipation in Brent Venables' voice at the Clemson coaches' annual media pow-wow in mid-July. No, QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins aren't back in orange; and yes, a few other less-famous key cogs in the Clemson machine are also gone - OT Brandon Thomas, RB Roderick McDowell, LB Spencer Shuey, CB Bashaud Breeland and K Chandler Catanzaro, to name five.
So who's got next? You already know about the Big Three on defense (DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett and LB Stephone Anthony), plus QB Cole Stoudt. And, if you're a real good Clemson fan, you know P Bradley Pinion's brutally underrated. (More on him another day.)
I went to the assistants themselves and asked the simple question: who has that look? That breakout potential? Here's what they said:
1) Running back: #9 WAYNE GALLMAN, 6-1, 200, r-fr.
"I knew he would take some time to develop, just because of the style of offense, and he played so much defense that he didn't get as many reps at back. I knew Wayne was going to be special, but I didn't know truly what we had. He's still a work in progress, he still has a ways to go, but he's the guy who jumped out there." -Tony Elliott, RBs coach
2) Wide receiver: #19 CHARONE PEAKE, 6-2, 205, r-jr.
"Charone Peake has been waiting in the wings. Very talented coming out of high school, and he happened to be a part of probably one of the most talented wide receiver recruiting classes in Clemson history. So he's been waiting his time. He was really prepared and in a position last year to have that breakout season, then he gets hurt. Another year of rehab and preparation, you can see that look in his eye that Charone's ready to go out and be a highly productive player. He's paid his dues, and he's probably the one guy that's prepared to have a big year this year." -Jeff Scott, WRs coach
3) Tight end: #16 JORDAN LEGGETT/#89 JAY JAY MCCULLOUGH
"I think everybody knows what they'll get in Sam Cooper and Stanton Seckinger, but I'd be interested to see what Jordan Leggett and Jay Jay McCullough can do. They're obviously gifted athletes, but it's a good problem to have when they all compete hard with it." -Danny Pearman, TEs coach
4) Offensive line: #67 KALON DAVIS, 6-5, 340, r-sr.
"Kalon has been a part-time starter on and off, but I think he's one that at one time, I didn't know if he'd make it, quite frankly. Came here too overweight, gets hurt, misses a year. But Clemson saw something in him, and they saw correctly. He's one of the smartest players I've coached in all my career. It's a very short list of guys who really see what you're trying to do offensively. All of them are taught the same thing; some grasp it, some don't." -Robbie Caldwell, OL coach
5) Defensive line: #48 D.J. READER, 6-2, 325, jr.
"D.J. played some very good football for us, then ended up starting two or three games, played really well, played well in the bowl game. He's gotten himself where we want him weight-wise, and he bought into that. He's made a commitment to football; good baseball player, but he sees his future in football. He's a guy we're looking for big things for - y'all (in the media) know who he is, but to make himself what we think he can be." -Dan Brooks, DTs coach
6) Linebacker: #10 BEN BOULWARE, 5-11, 230, so.
"I saw Tony Steward and Ben Boulware move in the right direction all spring. It was really noticeable in Ben Boulware, because he was such a young player with no foundation, and playing as a true freshman, so seeing his confidence and his understanding was very noticeable, the change in him." -Brent Venables, LBs coach
7) Nickelback: #6 DORIAN O'DANIEL, 6-2, 210, r-fr.
"He's got a bright future. It may not come to fruition this year, but he was a guy that just didn't know hardly anything about (defense.) Played running back a good portion of his high school career. Learning how to play linebacker and understanding Football 101, there's a big learning curve for him." -Venables
8) Cornerback: #25 CORDREA TANKERSLEY, 6-0, 195, so.
"Like a rocket ship, just become a different player. Made a lot of improvement and taking the coaching." -Venables
9) Safety: #15 T.J. GREEN, 6-3, 195, so.
"I kind of recruited him every day last year, because I always said he was a defensive back. But who comes to a school that throws the ball around like we do and doesn't want to play offense? Every kid wants the ball in his hands. I think he's settled in very well, and he'll do great things for us over in the secondary." -Mike Reed, DBs coach
10) Kicker: #36 AMMON LAKIP, 5-10, 200, r-jr.
"The thing he's got to do is be consistent. He had a great example in front of him in Chandler Catanzaro. Because Chandler, whether Chandler made it or missed it, he was able to see Chandler at his highs and his lows. He's seen his work ethic, and how he executed in games. Now he's got to go do it himself." -Pearman, STs coordinator