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Clemson football: Position battles to watch in fall camp

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Clemson football and coach Dabo Swinney open 2022 preseason camp Friday.

Special to The State

Friday afternoon marks the beginning of preseason camp for Clemson football, which is trying to get back to the sport’s biggest stage after a 10-3 2021 campaign.

The Tigers ended last season on a six-game winning streak after a 4-3 start, but they also snapped an impressive streak of six straight ACC championships and six straight College Football Playoff appearances under longtime coach Dabo Swinney.

“There’s been a lot of talk about football, but now it’s time to actually get to the doing,” Swinney said. “That’s our favorite part… This is a team with veteran experience and veteran leadership. I’m really pleased with the summer we’ve had and how they’ve worked.”

Here’s a preseason camp primer for Clemson, which opens the season against Georgia Tech on Monday Sept. 5 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.

Schedule

Clemson’s first day of practice is Friday.

The team will ultimately practice 25 times. Thanks to a spring NCAA rule change, Clemson gets 31 days to complete those 25 practices. It used to be 29 days.

“We’ve got a good camp schedule,” Swinney said. “I love the fact that we’ve got two extra days, because really those two extra days give you a chance to give them a little more time off… they gave us 31 days, so that allows us to pace it out a little bit .”

open practices

Friday marks the first of three practices that Clemson is opening up to the media across its first two weeks of preseason camp. The media viewing periods are for the early portions of Clemson’s practices and will encompass primarily individual drills.

Health status

After an injury-marred 2021 season, Swinney delivered a surprisingly clean bill of health for his 2022 roster at July’s team media day.

Outside of freshman wide receiver Adam Randall, who will be limited while recovering from a torn ACL, “we expect everybody to be in camp and ready to go,” he said. Clemson returns 15 of 22 primary offensive/defensive starters.

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Clemson wide receiver Will Taylor (16) catches a punt in the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina State on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Clemson, SC (AP Photo/Edward M. Pio Roda) Edward M. Pio Roda AP

Offensive position battles

Third-year offensive linemen Mitchell Mayes and Bryn Tucker will split reps at the first-team right guard spot, according to position coach Thomas Austin.

That should be the most visible position battle on an offensive line with an All-ACC left tackle in Jordan McFadden and experienced starters at left guard (Marcus Tate), center (Will Putnam) and right tackle (Walker Parks).

In the slot, receivers coach Tyler Grisham said Clemson’s expecting to start veteran Brannon Spector, who missed all of 2021 with respiratory issues. But it’ll be interesting to see who emerges as his primary backup between sophomore Will Taylor and freshman Antonio Williams, who are both dynamic playmakers.

There should also be some jockeying among Dacari Collins, Troy Stellato and EJ Williams for reps behind presumed starters Joseph Ngata and Beaux Collins.

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Clemson cornerback Malcolm Greene (21) pulls down Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates (13) during third-quarter action in Clemson, SC on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Travis Bell Sideline Carolina

defensive position battles

Position coach Mike Reed said Sheridan Jones and Nate Wiggins are Clemson’s likely starters at cornerback, but there isn’t yet a firm depth chart at the position.

Returners Fred Davis II and Malcolm Greene, as well as true freshmen Jeadyn Lukus and Toriano Pride Jr., could work themselves into the rotation as Clemson figures out the best way to replace two starters and All-ACC performers in Andrew Booth Jr. and Mario Goodrich.

At linebacker, Clemson graduated stalwarts James Skalski and Baylon Spector. All-ACC pick Trenton Simpson is an obvious lock, but how will the team dole out other first-team reps between LaVonta Bentley, Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter Jr.?

First-year defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Wes Goodwin, a fan of positional versatility, said Clemson’s linebackers have been cross-training across all three spots (strong-side, middle and weak-side).

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Dutch Fork’s Antonio Williams 8 plays Gaffney at Benedict College on Saturday, December 4, 2021. Joshua Boucher jboucher@thestate.com

New players

Clemson signed 20 scholarship recruits in its class of 2022, which ranked 14th nationally in the 247Sports composite team rankings.

Nine of those players were January early enrollees and participated in spring practice, while 11 enrolled at Clemson this summer and will make their camp debuts Friday. Clemson’s 11 summer enrollees are:

Chapel Fowler has covered Clemson football, among other topics, for The State since June 2022. He’s a Denver, NC, native, a 2020 UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and a pickup basketball enthusiast with previous stops at the Fayetteville (NC) Observer and Chatham (NC) News + Record. His work by him has been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors, the North Carolina Press Association and the Associated College Press.

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