The Clemson Tigers will wrap up their spring session Saturday, and while it doesn't figure to be a scrimmage in which fans can learn a whole lot about what the defending champions will look like in the fall, there are some key items worth monitoring as Dabo Swinney's crew takes the field in front of a crowd for the first time since winning the national title.
We can't state strongly enough that you shouldn't read too much into a spring-game performance. If one or more of the quarterbacks has a big day or struggles, remember that this is just one practice of 15 this spring, and it will be weighted accordingly. Moreover, Clemson isn't likely to open up the playbook and run the most nuanced version of its offense, so what we'll see from the quarterbacks is likely to be rather vanilla.
But having said all of that, we've never actually seen either Cooper or Johnson play against college competition, so it should make for interesting viewing. Moreover, neither has played in front of a college crowd, so while it won't exactly be game conditions, it will be a nice test of how ready for the spotlight the two young QBs are.
How much progress have the second-year players made?
It's crazy to think that Clemson had one of the top recruiting classes in the nation in 2016, yet only Dexter Lawrence and Sean Pollard saw significant work last year. That leaves ample intrigue to see the kind of progress made by Trayvon Mullen, who is fighting for a starting job in the secondary; linebackers Tre Lamar and Shaq Smith; defensive linemen Xavier Kelly and Nyles Pinckney; and running back Tavien Feaster, among others. All figure to play bigger roles in 2017, and this will be a good taste of how ready they are to take the next step.
How is Christian Wilkins used?
The plan seems to be for Wilkins to move back inside to defensive tackle, but the Clemson star has played it coy when asked exactly how he's splitting reps this spring. Mostly inside? Mostly on the edge? "Whatever the coaches want me to do," he said. The spring game won't be the only indication of what the coaches want from Wilkins, but it will be interesting to see how he's deployed for now. Plus, there's always the hope he catches a pass, runs a fake or demolishes some would-be tacklers as a lead blocker.
What does this offense look like now?
It has been written and discussed since the 2016 season ended, but this will be the public's first real look at the Tigers offense since the departure of virtually every key member of last year's champs. No Deshaun Watson. No Mike Williams. No Wayne Gallman or Jay Guillermo or Artavis Scott or Jordan Leggett. The spring game may not necessarily tell us much about the players replacing them, but the simple fact Watson & Co. won't be on the field is worth soaking in -- even if it's going to take a lot of getting used to.