December 18, 2018

5 in 59 – Louisville Edition

So many plays, so little time.

Featured image courtesy gwinndavisphotos.com

Seldom Used Reserve of the Week – Louisville Edition

While I wasn’t sure if Albert Huggins qualified as the Seldom Used Reserve of the Week based on our strict criteria, I searched the web for images and videos of Huggins in action at Clemson and found…0…and there you have it.

Here’s guessing those images will be coming soon.  Huggins had 4 total tackles (2 solo and 2 assists), including 2 sacks on the previously unsackable Lamar Jackson.

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Courtesy 247sports.com

Huggins joins Seth Ryan, Chris Register and Denzel Johnson as Seldom Used Reserves of the Week for 2016.

The Aftermath: Clemson-59 SC State-0

Clemson WR Ray Ray McCloud had his best day in a Tiger uniform. Photo via Gwinn Davis/gwinndavisphotos.com

Clemson WR Ray Ray McCloud had his best day in a Tiger uniform. Photo via Gwinn Davis/gwinndavisphotos.com

 

Clemson fans had a lot to cheer about early and often as their Tigers got off to a roaring start versus FCS foe South Carolina State. The Tigers built a 31-0 lead in the first quarter before coasting their way to a 59-0 shutout victory. Despite the inferior opponent, Saturday’s lopsided contest helped build some positive momentum for a team that’ll have a short week to prepare for a trip to Atlanta.

Offense
-Getting a 1st down on first series was huge. After watching the offense go 3 and out with their first possession during the last two games you just felt like the Tigers needed a pick-me-up right off the bat. Granted, it wasn’t easy as the Tigers did themselves no favors on their first two plays by only gaining 5 yards before Watson hit Artavis Scott for a 9 yard gain. That got the ball rolling in a big way.
-While I wasn’t crazy about the run blocking for a 3rd straight week, I thought the pass protection made it easy pickings for the QBs. In total 5 Clemson QBs combined to go 27-35 for 328 yards and 5 TDs. Not too bad considering that Watson doesn’t even account for half of those numbers. And it all started with the big fellas in the trenches that gave those guys time to work. Also, you just knew it was a different day when OL pushed Gallman an extra 10 yards on a 3rd & 1 early in the 1st.
-That brings me to Ray Ray McCloud who seems to be blossoming right before our eyes. The former 5-star recruit is showing why he was so highly thought of before arriving at Clemson. McCloud recorded two receiving touchdowns today and dazzled once again on punt returns en-route to 116 all-purpose yards in about 2 quarters of play. More games like this and his fumble at the goal line will become a mere afterthought.
-It was clear, to me at least, that Nick Schuessler is the second string QB. That much was likely confirmed when he went in on the third possession in the 1st Quarter. He certainly took advantage of that opportunity by slinging a beautiful ball to true freshman WR Diondre Overton for a 45 yard touchdown. Easily Clemson’s most explosive play of the year.
-As for Kelly Bryant, it just doesn’t seem like the offense runs as efficiently when he enters the game. He’ll break a run here or there, but he doesn’t bring the skill set to the passing game that makes the offense tick. While there’s still time for Bryant, a true sophomore, he has a ways to go.
-Despite only registering 6 catches the last two games Mike Williams is still Clemson’s best receiver. He’s going to be back at his spot atop of the stat sheet once ACC play arrives.
-Same goes for Wayne Gallman who’s only carried the rock 16 times over the last two games. He averaged nearly 6 yards per carry yesterday and will become the workhorse come Thursday night in Atlanta.
-Was really excited to get an extended glimpse of true freshman WR Cornell Powell. Early on he made one hell of a catch on a poorly thrown ball that the officials reviewed because they thought it hit the ground. Turns out Powell used his oversized mitts to grab it before it could touch the grass. Other than that he was pretty quiet. Had a dropped touchdown and a muffed punt that he recovered. Let’s give him a little more time to settle in.
-The other freshman I was excited to see was Tavien Feaster, and boy he didn’t disappoint. In his first action at RB for Clemson the 5-star Spartanburg native led the Tigers with 83 yards on 12 carries. Several of those carries were hard-nosed between the tackle runs. In this observer’s opinion, he’s a different caliber of back than Choice, Dye, and Fuller. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him work his way up the depth chart rather quickly. “Feast Mode” also added 21 kick return yards to put him over the century mark for all-purpose yardage.  The start to a special career.

 

Defense
-I touched on Venables wanting to seeing his unit finish this game after allowing some late touchdowns in the Tigers first 2 contests. They answered the bell today with a shutout. Sure the talent discrepancy was enormous, but you have to be encouraged by the play of the young guys who took the reigns in the 2nd half. Was certainly nice to get some snaps for the inexperienced bodies that litter Clemson’s two-deep on defense.
-How about the first defensive series where Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins (grounding), and Clelin Ferrell registered sacks on three consecutive snaps? They didn’t credit Ferrell with a sack in the stat sheet, but I’m going to give it to him anyways because he hit the QB behind the line of scrimmage. Speaking of the Bulldogs QB, I honestly felt bad for him after those series of hits.
-Clemson’s two Orangeburg natives had pretty good days against their hometown team. Jadar Johnson fell a few yards short of recording his 2nd career pick-6, the first of which came against SC State in 2014. Later in the game, Albert Huggins register his first sack. He also had a fumble recovery that was negated by an offsides call.
-I think true freshman corner Trayvon Mullen could be a starter sooner rather than later. He led the team in tackles with 6 and I’ve yet to see him get picked on in coverage. That’s telling. At 6’2″ he brings size to the boundary which is something Clemson hasn’t had in a while.
-3 games into his career and Dexter Lawrence is still unblockable (not an actual word). It’s becoming a trend.
-Let’s also talk about the sack that true freshman LB James Skalski had yesterday. I’m almost positive that QB’s shoes are still planted in the turf right where Skalski de-cleated him. If you didn’t know better, you would have sworn that was Ben Boulware making the play.
-Clemson’s as good as they’ve been in a long time at middle linebacker. Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar are both outstanding talents that seem to understand how to play the position.
-10 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 42 yards lost on those plays. Solid.
-55 yards allowed in the first half. 47 yards allowed in the second half. Even more solid.

 

Special Teams
-Touched on McCloud earlier, but I’ve got to give him more praise here. 3 punt returns for 56 yards including a 31 yarder than almost went the distance. What a breath of fresh air for Clemson to finally have a threat in the return game. It’s been awhile.
-Adrien Dunn also had a nice return that went for 30 yards, but reports after the game indicate that he may have suffered an ACL injury on the play. Tough break for a kid that’s extremely talented, just undersized.
-Huegel continues to kick the hell out of the ball on kickoffs, which certainly helps alleviate some of the kickoff coverage concerns. On 18 kickoffs this year he’s recorded 11 touchbacks.
-Disappointing to see the blocked FG. Couldn’t tell what went wrong, luckily it was a non-factor today.

 

Miscellaneous
-After Watson’s apology on Monday morning there was a sense that Clemson was ready to explode and that’s exactly what happened yesterday. Yes, it was SC State. Yes, Clemson’s 3rd string could have won this game. We know all that. Yesterday’s game was about creating some positive momentum and creating chemistry for an offense that may be among the nation’s best. That happened. Will it carry over to Thursday’s matchup against Georgia Tech? No one knows, but Tiger fans have to be feeling a lot better than they did this time a week ago.
-79,590. That was the announced attendance for a nooner against a 0-2 FCS team. A few years ago this is a game that would have drawn about 70K. Amazing what a winning culture can do for a program.
-Pretty cool to see grad transfer Grant Radakovich, the son of Clemson AD Dan Radakovich, get some action in the game’s waning moments. Kid hurdled a defender at 6’1″ 255lbs. You know pops had to be somewhere saying, “I taught him that.”
-With Louisville’s blowout win over FSU the pressure for Clemson to beat GT just got bumped up a notch. The Tigers will certainly have their hands full with an improved Paul Johnson team this Thursday, but it’s tough not to look ahead to what could be a Top 5 matchup in Death Valley. Buckle up, it’s about to get fun.

State of the Program: Defensive Tackle

StateofProgramDT

5-star freshman Dexter Lawrence (Suzie Wolf-HighSchoolOT) and senior Carlos Watkins (The Daily Courier)

Clemson defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks has quietly put together quite a resume during his time in the Upstate. And thanks to his diligence both on the sidelines and the recruiting trail he’ll have one of the top defensive tackle groups in the country at his disposal when Clemson travels to Auburn for the season opener this August. From top to bottom this unit could arguably be the deepest in Clemson’s storied history. The last truly dynamic defensive tackle group at Clemson came 5 years ago when a trio of current NFL players (Brandon Thompson, DeShawn Williams, Grady Jarrett) littered the depth chart. With the two early enrollees on campus, Clemson now has six consensus 4-star or better players slated to play at tackle and the best one could very well be a true freshman. You’ll read more about Dexter Lawrence below, but just know he’s a big part of why the staff has experimented with freshman All-American Christian Wilkins outside at end. Speaking of the defensive ends, they can thank the big boys in the middle for all the one on one matchups they’ll receive this Fall.

Returners
RS SR-Carlos Watkins: 34 tackles 7.5 TFL 3.5 sacks 1 INT
RS JR-Scott Pagano: 18 tackles 2.0 TFL
RS SO-Jabril Robinson: 7 tackles 1 sack
SO-Christian Wilkins: 33 tackles 4.5 TFL 2 sacks 1 FF
SO-Albert Huggins: 5 tackles
RS FR-Gage Cervenka: Redshirted

Signees
Dexter Lawrence
★★★★★ 6’4 330lbs (Wake Forest, NC)
Few prospects have garnered the attention that Lawrence has since he stepped on campus back in January. I would compare his first impressions to that of CJ Spiller and Deshaun Watson, except on the defensive side of the ball. During his recruitment Lawrence played no favorites and kept his intentions close to the vest. As his December 14th decision date drew near, many felt his family ties would keep him close to home at NC State. And that sentiment grew even stronger when he visited Raleigh the weekend before his announcement. Obviously the appeal to come play at a national power outweighed the Wolfpack’s proximity, and all indications point to that being the right decision as Lawrence already appears to be in line for significant snaps after just a semester of practices. Very rarely do you see teams gameplan around a certain player in Spring games, but that’s exactly what happened in the Orange & White game a couple weeks ago when Lawrence was repeatedly double teamed at the line of scrimmage. Safe to say this kid is going to be a force to reckon with.

Nyles Pinckney
★★★★ 6’3″ 290lbs (Seabrook, SC)
Make no doubts about it, Pinckney will likely live in the shadow of the aforementioned Lawrence for quite some time. And you know what? He probably doesn’t have too much objection to that. The Palmetto state native is another low-key guy who just quietly went about his business during the recruiting cycle before he committed to Clemson over South Carolina back in August. Perhaps the biggest concern for Pinckney before he arrived in January as an early enrollee was the lack of competition he faced at Whale Branch, which plays at the AA level. He quickly put those doubts to rest during Spring practice and even earned comparisons to former Clemson great Grady Jarrett. Nonetheless, Pinckney is likely headed for a redshirt season just based off of the absurd amount of talent he has in front of him.

Commitments
None

Board Overview
With only one senior on the roster and two early enrollees already on campus, there is a decent chance that Clemson could pass on a defensive tackle for the 2017 class. If they do elect to take a tackle the most promising candidate at this time is 4-star Corey Bolds (Paramus, NJ). Bolds is teammates with Clemson’s top linebacker target Drew Singleton and both made the trip down south to take in the Orange & White game earlier this month. Paramus Catholic, where both players attend, is a pipeline to Michigan so it’s no surprise that the Wolverines are the Tigers stiffest competition for their commitments. Some other names on the board for a potential take include: Breyon Gaddy (Norfolk, VA), MJ Webb (Madison, GA), Tyrone Truesdell (Augusta, GA), and Neil Farrell (Mobile, AL). Looking ahead, the Clemson staff will certainly take one if not two tackles in the 2018 class, which would likely be why they’ve already distributed two offers to highly touted prospects Josh Belk (Richsburg, SC) and Austin Fontaine (Hyattsville, MD). Belk is flirting with 5-star status and his recruitment figures to be a fierce in-state battle between the Gamecocks and Tigers.

Previous Articles:
Quarterback
Running Back
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line

**Make sure to check out the SUR message boards for further discussion about Clemson sports**

Spring Game Takeaways

First of all, everyone that made it to Tigertown on Saturday for the Spring Game should pat themselves on the back. Early last week, Swinney asked for 50,000 in attendance for the Orange vs White scrimmage, which would be 13,000 more than 2015. And he received 50,500 officially. Incredible turnout for a glorified scrimmage. Here’s how it stacked up against the rest of the college football world on Saturday: (reminder several major programs such as Ohio State, Alabama, and Georgia are still to have their games)

Just imagine what that number could be if the university could move it away from Master’s Weekend.

As we begin to look at the game itself, keep in mind that the Spring Game is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. Therefore, it’s always best to not allow anything that occurred in the game to have a major influence on you. With that said, it’s still Clemson football and always enjoyable to delve into.

My favorite part of Saturday’s game BY FAR was the amount of injuries. 0. Artavis Scott did seem to tweak something in his knee coming down for a ball, but doesn’t appear to be anything to be concerned about. But the players, coaches, and fans have to be thrilled at this result considering the injuries suffered in previous spring games.

Let’s take a look at several plays from the game(special thanks to YouTube user “tigerray” for the upload):

Deshaun Watson. Still good.

Second play of the game, stepping into the pocket and hitting Hunter Renfrow for a big gain. So smooth. He’d hit Renfrow twice more that drive, including a 3rd & 10 conversion and short TD grab. Serious chemistry between those two.

 

Another instance of Deshaun doing his thing, this time with a beautiful touch pass to Seth Ryan. Watson acknowledges that Ryan has the shorter Ryan Carter covering him, and uses this to put a ball onto Ryan’s right shoulder. Great awareness and catch from Seth, who is really coming on in the spring. Could he see a few significant snaps in the regular season? It’s a possibility.

 

Later on, DW4 will toss a perfect deep ball to the streaking Ray Ray McCloud. Good throw, but a bit concerning how badly McCloud beat Marcus Edmond. Can’t see his route, but Edmond may have bitten on the subtle pump that Watson put on. Two deep balls given up early, albeit from the arm of DW4, is not what Venables wanted to see from his inexperienced secondary.

 

Prior to the TD above, Edmond did have an impressive INT and return from the arm of Kelly Bryant. This time Edmond is covering Seth Ryan, who’s not nearly the burner than RRM3 is. If you pause the clip with the ball in the air, nearing the receiver, you’ll see Edmond stride for stride with Ryan AND getting his head turned to locate the ball. Not easy to do. Maybe the bigger takeaway from the play is the poor throw from Bryant that resulted in the pick. Did step into the pocket well, but his deep ball accuracy has room for improvement.

 

Also not sure Bryant is in his comfort zone as a pocket passer quite yet. Unfortunately, a spring game is one hand touch for quarterbacks, which greatly limits KB’s playmaking with his feet. Clip below goes down as a sack, but in a real game, is likely a 20-30 yard rush from Bryant. (Side note: Quality job by #76 true frosh, Sean Pollard against Christian Wilkins on the end)

 

KB produced this toss late in the game, as RRM3 got the best of Edmond once again. Overall, solid receiving day from McCloud, and SUR Chris’ offensive breakout prediction is trending up.

 

Special teams, however, may not currently be McCloud’s forte even with the added emphasis in spring from Coach Swinney. Electric? You bet. Ball security and decision making? Still in progress. Dabo gave Ray Ray quite the earful following his ill-advised punt return attempt here.

 

On the other hand, Artavis has taken the reigns at both KR and PR. A couple solid returns from Scott, and I for one, could see him taking either a kickoff or punt back for 6 this season. He looks to be completely healed from his knee issues last season and more like his freshman year self, yet more explosive. Here’s a 46 yard kickoff return. Unfortunately the kickoff doesn’t have overwhelmingly great hangtime nor distance, as it’s caught at the four yard line. These factors, as you likely already know, are a key contributor to long returns. Fair to say Clemson fan’s worries about special team problems were not resolved in this game. But it’s early, and there’s plenty of time to fix, beginning with putting kickoffs into the endzone.

Another instance of Scott’s returning prowess, this time on a punt return. Unfortunately, it’s greatly benefited by the low trajectory.

 

Sticking with receivers, I thought Trevion Thompson looked as though he’s ready to take his game up to the next level. Sure, it helped that Williams and Cain didn’t play, but he still stuck out. Little pass rush in the below clip, even with blitzing two LB’s, and Thompson finds the soft spot. Small detail that irks me, he has a tendency to catch like Martavis Bryant aka not with his hands. Recipe for drops.

Another one from Trevion, this time on a screen. Acceleration, quickness.

Outside of Thompson, the biggest pleasant surprise offensively to me was Adam Choice. After sitting a season following an ACL tear, Choice looks back to his freshman health. Thought Fuller and Dye were quiet, and Choice can cement his place as #2 RB if he continues at this rate. He’ll provide a fine complement to Gallman, who should be happy to see his # of rushes decrease in what is likely his final college season. Have to like the strength from Choice, although Van Smith’s tackling leaves a bit to be desired.

 

The offensive line was impressive all around, and is as deep and talented as I can ever remember. Winning in the trenches. Hyatt and Fruhmorgen did their thing, Hearn looks to be a road grader in the middle, and true freshman Sean Pollard was a nice surprise. Thought he did well to nullify Wilkins at DE. Here’s an example, and another was above with the KB scramble.

 

And another…

 

Wilkins at DE is a riveting topic, and the mere thought of a D-Line consisting of Wilkins, Watkins, Lawrence, and Bryant leaves Clemson fans drooling. I do not doubt Wilkins’ ability to play the run and set the edge, but it’ll be interesting to track his development as a pass rusher and see if the coaches trust him in that position. Tiger fans were blessed with two NFL ready pass rushers in Dodd and Lawson this past year, and both made it look much easier than what is reality. A lot of the Wilkins DE experiment may be more of finding ways to get the DT talent on the field than needing another pass rusher. With that said, here’s a few clips of the DT talent at work…

How about Sterling Johnson beating a double team for the TFL? A name that doesn’t exactly come up quickly when discussing the DT depth.

 

And big Albert Huggins going up against starting RG, Tyrone Crowder. Don’t forget that Huggins was a 4-star top prospect in South Carolina a couple years ago. Could be prepped to breakout this season.

 

And of course, many eyes were on 5-star, #2 player in the nation, Dexter Lawrence. Few times does a freshman have to be double-teamed in a spring game, but Lawrence received said treatment. Props to DOD on using his quickness and anticipation to nearly pick off a Tucker Israel pass and take it to the house.

 

Seth Penner did have the unfortunate circumstance of having to go against Lawrence late in the game without any assistance…

 

And lastly, my eyes were focused on the field CB position opposite of Tankersley. My favorite matchup throughout the day was Artavis Scott vs Mark Fields. Continuous testing of Fields against Clemson’s WR talent will benefit him in the long-term as he prepares to be the starter next season. Here, he sticks with Scott down the field but doesn’t get his head turned around to find the ball and pays for it.

 

Similar play here with Fields not getting his head turned around to find the ball. However, check out the replay as Fields get his arms between Scott’s and punches the ball away to make up for it. Not too shabby. The kid has the tools to be a great corner.

 

I’ll re-emphasize, take all of spring and the spring game with a grain of salt. And don’t gather a firm opinion, outside of the fact that DW4 is a baller, from what was seen at the spring game. Lots to play out and develop throughout the summer and into fall. All in all, still enjoyable to run through Clemson football again.

Tigers Tampa hopes begin and end with Deshaun Watson

Every team that plays for a championship and comes up short of the title believes they’ll be back.  They are almost always wrong.  A championship season takes an incredible confluence of coaching, talent, luck and karma to win the title.  Like almost every team before them the Clemson Tigers believe they’ll be back, though there is some skepticism, even among the Tiger faithful.

Of course, it’s impossible to know if the Tigers will, in fact, be in Tampa next January.  There’s more than 200 days between now and opening day of 2016 and, as last off-season showed, a lot can happen between now and then.

But there’s reason to believe that Clemson has a fair shot at returning in 2016 and here are a few:

Deshaun Watson
The day after the championship game was an eye opener for me and proved that a lot of the talking heads around the country don’t watch the games, not even the ones played by the team that hold the top ranking.  “Wow, Deshaun Watson is good!” was the consensus.  Clemson fans and those that actually watched the games knew Watson was special and it didn’t start in 2015. The second pass of his college career zipped by the ear hole of a Georgia LB for a touchdown.

My deep analysis for the championship game was, “Clemson has Deshaun Watson”.  That goes for 2016, too.





Dabo Swinney
Swinney is a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing Swinney is not is complacent, even with his team placing ahead of 126 others.  He will not rest on his laurels.  He will not let his team rest on their laurels.  If it’s true that a team takes on the personality of the head coach, the Tigers will want it more in 2016 than they did in 2015.

Turnover Turnaround 
Each season Phil Steele opines on turnovers and how a major component of turnovers are luck and how generally, if you are bad at turnovers one season you’ll be better at them the next year.  It’s obviously not a scientific certainty, but the theory is that some of the bad luck of the previous season tends to shift to good luck the next season. That’s bad news for the rest of college football because the Tigers were bad at turnovers during their run to the title game coming in at -2 in 6 games.  In full disclosure Clemson wasn’t bad at turnovers in “big” games, but in games that were closer than expected the Tigers stunk at turnovers.

Expect fewer turnovers for Clemson and more blowouts in 2016.

Mike Williams
All year we heard about teams playing without their best wide receiver or other injured star, yet little was made by the national media of Mike Williams’ injury that cost him all but 12 plays of the 2015 season.  Deshaun Watson threw for 4,100 yards and 35 touchdowns without his best wide receiver and deep threat. Let that rattle around in your noggin for a while.

Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster
Wayne Gallman had a breakout season, breaking the Clemson single season rushing record and runs with a passion and violent streak rarely seen in college football.  Gallman and Watson shouldered almost all of the load on the ground.  2016 will see the return of Adam Choice and the debut of 5-Star back Tavien Feaster.  Maybe Watson will carry the ball less and Ed Cunningham will be at a loss for words.  I doubt it.  Either way the addition of these two will make the Clemson running game even more dangerous, which in turn makes Watson….even more dangerous.

Front 7 on D
Is it possible that the front 7 can be a strength when Clemson loses Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd D.J. Reader and B.J. Goodson? Christian Wilkins, Scott Pagano, Austin Bryant, Richard Yeargin, Albert Huggins and 2015 redshirt Clelin Ferrell, among others, say yes. Already on campus are three 5 star talents:  Rivals #2 overall recruit Dexter Lawrence (DT) and #6 recruit Rahshaun Smith (LB) and Tre Lamar Rivals #16 recruit (LB).  The Tigers will be younger, but an argument could be made that the overall talent level will be similar, if not better.

Losing the bookend defensive ends is a hit, but the interior will be solid and the talent and depth at linebacker will be solid.

Addition by Subtraction
There is no doubt the Tigers will miss the cover skills of Mackensie Alexander and also lose safeties T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse from the defensive backfield.  That’s 3/4ths of a group compiled a very stingy pass completion ratio.  The problem was when a pass was completed it often went for big yards. This group took chances, which worked out spectacularly for Clemson at times and horribly at other times.  This likely means that in 2016 the completion percentage may increase, but I expect fewer big plays against the defense.

None of this, of course, guarantees a return to the title game for Clemson.  Road trips to Auburn, Tallahassee and Atlanta await, as do home games with Louisville, Pittsburgh and N.C. State.

Plenty could change between now and and next January and even if it doesn’t, chemistry is a huge variable in the evolution of a team and college football is the greatest reality show on TV.  Just ask Ohio State.

The cupboard isn’t bare, not by a long shot.  This is closer to a reload, not a rebuild, but only 2 teams will make it to Tampa.

And the Tigers have Deshaun Watson.

Depth Depleted Along D-Line, but Talent to Reload Exists

VenablesOne of the biggest storylines around this year’s Clemson football team just got bigger — or thinner, depending on how you look at it.

Even before head coach Dabo Swinney’s announcement yesterday morning that Ebenezer Ogundeko had been dismissed from the football team “for a violation of team rules and behavior detrimental” to the team, it was widely known the Tigers’ defensive line depth has diminished from last season’s top-ranked defense.

Six of the eight players who received at least one start along Clemson’s defensive front a year ago have departed campus and landed on an NFL team.

The Falcons used their first- and fifth-round picks on Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett before Tavaris Barnes, Corey Crawford, Josh Watson and DeShawn Williams signed free-agent deals with the Saints, Redskins, Broncos and Bengals, respectively.

This was Ogundeko’s opening for increased playing time heading into his sophomore season, but his future at Clemson would soon evaporate after he was arrested and charged with one count of financial transaction card fraud due to his work with another person to alter the number on the magnetic strip on the back of his credit card, which multiple sources reported.

Ogundeko — a former four-star recruit from Brooklyn, N.Y., who redshirted during the 2013 season prior to playing in seven games and logging a handful of tackles last year — was carving out a more sizable role and primed to be one of the first names called as a substitution at defensive end.

“I’ve seen Ebo grow and improve,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said following Clemson’s second scrimmage of the spring on April 1. “He’s gotten better.”

“Ebo showed that he can play winning football,” Venables added after the spring game later in the month.D.J. Reader closes in on an S.C. State runner

Now without his services, and without other front-four cogs that combined for 23 of the 29 sacks the Tigers’ defensive line accounted for in 2014, Clemson doesn’t have the wealth of seasoned options at defensive end and defensive tackle that were there a season ago.

But though the team retained just three players with starting experience up front, the makeup and outlook of the expected starting unit is solid.

And behind them, there are players who have the potential to replenish the line’s depth and eventually, as they get more reps and game action, reduce the drop-off that is bound to occur when so many contributors pack up and move on.

“I think we’ll be strong up front,” Venables said following the spring game. “We’ve got to continue to develop and continue to get better in our pass rush.”

Shaq Lawson (one career start), who entered college as the No. 1 prep school prospect in the nation, has shown signs of stardom while waiting to start and is ready to break out in that role during his junior campaign. Similarly, Kevin Dodd has waited three years for his shot and will get it opposite Lawson at the other end spot.Shaq Lawson

In between them, senior D.J. Reader (four career starts) and junior Carlos Watkins (one career start) will step in as first-team tackles.

The composition of the second team and how it will be deployed is unclear, but talent is present.

One player in particular who caught the eye of Venables during the spring is defensive end Richard Yeargin III, who redshirted in 2014 after signing with Clemson as a three-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“Richard Yeargin has really shown something,” Venables said after the Tigers’ second spring scrimmage. “He’s starting to play faster, stronger, just playing more sure of himself, getting more comfortable. He’s still got to take another step, but I’ve been pleased with some things from him, as well.”

Scott Pagano, a Hawaii native and four-star signee in the 2013 recruiting class, Jabril Robinson, a three-star member of the 2014 class, and highly touted early enrollees Albert Huggins and Sterling Johnson will battle for alignment at defensive tackle behind Reader and Watkins, who said he isn’t overwhelmed by his new task of being a leader and mentor of the young assets.

Clemson football - Scott Pagano

Clemson football – Scott Pagano

“I kind of feel (the pressure),” Watkins said during the spring, “but you know what your goal is when you’re coming in, and you know you really can’t fold under pressure because you have younger guys behind you looking up to you, you and you have to be there for them in certain ways and certain areas.”

Summer workouts and fall camp will determine the course of several freshman defensive linemen, including five-star tackle Christian Wilkins and four-star ends Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell, and whether they will redshirt or become complimentary pieces.

Venables said in the spring that it is imperative for these players to begin their quest of restocking the defensive line by “just having a great summer in the next six months.”

“Really locking in and improving, attacking weaknesses and things of that nature,” Venables said. “I think we have a chance to be strong.”