CLEMSON — There is a danger in deriving too much from spring football practice, especially with more than four months remaining before Clemson’s season opener against Auburn on Sept. 1. Still, nearly all of Clemson’s scholarship players were in camp for 15 spring practices, allowing the staff to gather its first impressions of the 2012 team.
Here’s a look at who stood out, who took a step back, what questions were answered and what remains uncertain following spring practice:
Mike Bellamy went from nearly being exiled to showing why he could be a future star.
Bellamy’s status with the team was in peril in December when he was suspended for a violation of team rules. Bellamy made good on a second chance this spring with coach Dabo Swinney praising the former five-star prospect for his focus.
“He’s been steady,” Swinney said. “The biggest thing is he’s come to work every day. He’s been focused in practice every day and he’s engaged. He’s just keeping his mouth shut.”
The undersized Corico Hawkins is now competing with Tig Willard for a starting job at weak-side linebacker after being a two-year starter at middle linebacker. Clemson has improved its talent level at linebacker through the last several recruiting classes. Stephone Anthony has taken over at middle linebacker, and Tony Steward and Justin Parker also figure to earn increased playing time this fall. The emerging young talents could force Hawkins into a reserve role.
DeAndre Hopkins made it clear he has no interest in wearing the label of possession receiver. Hopkins improved his strength and attention to detail following the bowl game and took his game to another level this spring, which he capped with a seven-catch, 120-yard performance in the spring game. Clemson might now have two top-caliber receivers in Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.
Earlier this offseason, the Clemson skill players lined up for several 40-yard dashes to determine the team’s fastest player. While it was no surprise Watkins consistently finished first, just trailing Clemson’s star was 6-4 Martavis Bryant. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris says Bryant, a sophomore, is still “very, very inconsistent.” But Swinney has said Bryant’s tools — which include soft hands and pogo-stick legs — rival those of any receiver on the team.
The staff approached Tyler Shatley with a proposal in December. They saw a gaping void at right guard and they saw the redshirt junior unlikely to be more than a rotational player along the defensive line. Shatley agreed to the experiment. What the staff learned this spring is Shatley belongs on the offensive side of the ball, where he has entrenched himself as the starter at right guard thanks to his strength and surprisingly quick grasp of the blocking concepts.
While Shatley has filled one void along the offensive front, plenty of questions remain about the offensive line, and perhaps the most important unknown is if adequate depth can be developed.
Clemson is extremely young and inexperienced along its first team, and is even younger and more inexperienced below that level on the depth chart.
“I think we developed about seven offensive linemen,” Morris said. “I wish I had a few more I feel comfortable with.”