Wide receiver Mike Williams had nearly 100 catches for 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He’s currently getting ready for training camp with the San Diego Chargers.
That’s a hell of a lot of production for any offense to replace. But at ACC media days Thursday, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hardly sounded like a coach who was worried about finding replacements for them and four other starters on offense as Clemson begins its title defense.
“Guys, there’s change every year,” Swinney said when asked about replacing all the departed offensive production. “It’s a new team. You know, when [former quarterback] Tajh Boyd was gone, it was, how are you going to replace Tajh Boyd? Well, we went and got a guy named Deshaun Watson. He did okay. When Vic Beasley left, oh, my God, how are you going to replace Vic
“When [defensive end] Vic Beasley left, oh, my God, how are you going to replace Vic Beasley? Well, we got a guy named Clelin Ferrell, he did all right last year. Nobody knew about him this time last year. How are you going to replace [defensive tackle] Grady Jarrett? Well, we went and got Christian Wilkins.”
Watson wasn’t a seamless replacement for Boyd either. After Boyd became the Tigers’ career passing leader in his senior season in 2013, Cole Stoudt was the team’s starting quarterback to open 2014 and finished the season as Watson suffered a knee injury. Clemson still went 10-3.
While it was clear from the beginning of 2014 that Stoudt was a bridge to Watson, there’s not a similar level of clarity at quarterback for Clemson yet. At least publicly. Swinney hasn’t declared a starter from a pool including Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson.
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But with seven weeks to go before the season begins, there’s plenty of time for the QB situation to get sorted out. And given Swinney and his staff’s track record, they’ll probably make the right decision.
Outside of the quarterback position, Tavien Feaster should step in for Gallman at running back while Deon Cain looks poised to take the No. 1 receiving spot in 2017. Cain averaged over 19 yards a catch and had nine touchdowns in 2016. Hunter Renfrow — the man who caught the national title-winning touchdown pass from Watson — also returns at wide receiver as does Ray-Ray McCloud.
“And if you recruit well and you develop well, then you can sustain consistency, which is really what we’re trying to do is just be a consistently competitive program that’s in position to compete for this conference, because if we can compete for this conference year in and year out, hey, we’re going to have those years where we get it done,” Swinney said.
“So I love our roster. I love the fact that you make a comment like that because that’s fuel. That’s that edge that some of those guys need. Nobody is asking me about Deon Cain yet. This is one of the best receivers in the country. He’s had unbelievable moments. Not one word. We’re talking about a guy that’s gone, and I’m focused on the guys that are here.”
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