Clemson wraps up spring practice on Saturday, and the defending ACC champs have some pretty big questions still looming. Here’s what to watch for as the Tigers take the field for the last time until fall camp — and, not surprisingly, they’re all on the defensive side of the ball.
1. How will Christian Wilkins be utilized?
The big tease of the spring has been Wilkins — the 315-pounder — getting reps at defensive end. Dabo Swinney has repeatedly preached that he’s thrilled with his depth on the edge, with Austin Bryant, Richard Yeargin and Clelin Ferrell earning praise, but Wilkins has the potential to be a unique force. And with a ton of depth at tackle, too, using the athletic Wilkins as an edge rusher could be a great way to maximize the talent on the field.
2. How do the freshmen look?
Dexter Lawrence was the biggest catch in Clemson’s 2016 signing class, and he already has turned heads at defensive tackle. The more compelling freshmen to watch, however, are at linebacker, where B.J. Goodson’s departure has left a big hole, and ESPN 300 prospects Tre' Lamar and Shaq Smith are aiming for immediate playing time. Again, the early reviews have been good, but a crowd — even a spring one — can put young players to the test.
3. What does the secondary look like?
The attrition in the defensive backfield has been immense for the Tigers. Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, T.J. Green and Travis Blanks all left early for the NFL draft. Adrian Baker’s ACL tear this spring cost Clemson another key piece, and Kaleb Chalmers was dismissed from the team for violating team rules. In other words, there’s a lot of playing time to be earned, and while Cordrea Tankersley is solidified at one corner spot, fans will get a chance to see how the rest of the remaining group, including Mark Fields, Van Smith, Jadar Johnson and Ryan Carter, to name a few, stack up.