CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers completed nine of their 15 allotted spring football practices before they broke for a 12-day spring break last Wednesday.
When the Tigers return, they will have only six practices left in the spring session before breaking from camp as a team until August. With more than half of the practices in the books already, we are going to take a look at the five things that we learned through the first nine.
1. The defense will be OK: Much has been made, and rightfully so, about the losses on the Tiger defense -- especially the front four. But if one thing has been made clear, the Tigers are not planning on taking a step back this season.
Sure, names like Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence, Kendall Joseph, Trayvon Mullen and Tre Lamar are no longer on the team, but through the first nine practices, other names have emerged as forces.
Names like Shaq Smith, Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry and Jamie Skalski have already taken the reins from their former teammates and are not looking back.
2. Trevor Lawrence does not appear to be suffering from a sophomore slump: The big question for Lawrence was not would he suffer from the dreaded slump as it relates to his on-field performance. It was would he be able to handle the expectations.
With Lawrence being the Heisman Trophy favorite as a sophomore, the expectations have never been higher for a Clemson quarterback since Deshaun Watson’s junior season. But Watson did not lead his team to a national title and 15-0 record in his freshman season, and Watson also had two years before he was seen as a favorite entering his junior campaign.
For Lawrence, there has been no sign of losing the edge that made him one of the most dangerous offensive threats in college football a year ago.
3. Spiers has improved: Last season, former Calhoun Academy standout Will Spiers had one of his worst seasons as Clemson’s starting punter.
Facing a challenge from true freshman Aidan Swanson, one of the nation's top punter signees last year, Spiers has had his best spring as a Tiger.
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In fact, he has out-kicked the freshman and recaptured the confidence of head coach Dabo Swinney and special teams coordinator Danny Pearman.
"He finished the season strong and looks like a different guy. He just looks very confident,” Swinney said. “He’s been very consistent. He's got all the talent in the world. The thing with Will is becoming consistent. I thought the latter part of the season, he really settled in. Biggest thing is just putting it all together.
"Aidan Swanson, same thing. We recruited him for a reason. He's got all the ability in the world, great pop. Just consistency, timing."
4. The kicking game must get better: Gone is Greg Huegel, one of the most consistent kickers in school history, and with him some of the confidence of the coaching staff.
The Tigers have the Uber-talented B.T. Potter, who handled kickoff duties last season. But until he can learn to make the layups, the field goal unit will continue to be a point of concern.
“We're not very consistent on field goals right now. We are way too inconsistent,” Swinney said. “You can't be a 50 percent free throw shooter. We've gotta be a whole lot better. Still a work in progress in a lot of areas. It's amazing when you get in this stadium how all of a sudden things can change. It's a different deal when you get over here and get out of everybody's way. But there were a lot of good things. We looked like a sloppy football team today.”
5. The Tigers will be better at the tight end position (they have to be): The Tigers have not had a dynamic tight end that could stress defenses like they would like to since the departure of Jordan Leggett following the 2016 season.
The Tigers had hoped that Milan Richard could have been the one to replace Leggett, but he did not pan out.
Now the Tigers will pin their hopes on Jaelyn Lay, a true freshman, who has all of the talent in the world — and has shown that he can get the job done if he learns the position in time.
“(He) looked like a fish out of water the first few days, but the last few days I haven't noticed him as much, which is good. It has slowed down a little bit for him,” Swinney said. “He is catching the ball better, and his breathing has slowed down. He is a pleaser, and he wants to please. He can draw it on the board and then all of a sudden you get out there and you panic and Coach (Danny) Pearman is yelling at you, and it's all downhill.
"But that's just kind of where he is, dropping him in the grease. But make no mistake, he is going to be something special. I have no doubt he will make big strides, but physically he is gifted.”