Clemson Team Report
Clemson signed 23 high school players on national signing day, and coach Dabo Swinney addressed the team’s most pressing need in a big way, as many as 16 of the signees project as defensive players.
With a class rated as high as No. 12 nationally, the Tigers were happy with their haul for the third time in as many seasons.
“This is our third top-15 class in a row,” said Swinney, whose team is coming off an 11-2 season and victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. “We got better today, that’s for sure. We signed a great group of young men, and I’m excited about all of them.”
But perhaps none more so than five-star cornerback Mackensie Alexander of Immokalee (Fla.) High. Alexander spurned offers from Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M, among others.
“Our biggest need is in the secondary, and the addition of Mackensie really improves our football team,” Swinney said. “We’ve more than met our needs at that position.”
No kidding. The Tigers signed eight defensive backs, and a ninth—versatile athlete T.J. Green—who could end up in the secondary.
Other big-time gets for the Tigers include four-star corner Adrian Baker of Chaminade Madonna (Fla.) Prep, 6-4 safety Jayron Kearse of South Fort Myers (Fla.) High and three-star defensive back Korrin Wiggins of Durham (N.C.) Hillside High.
All may get extended looks come fall. With the loss of Xavier Brewer, Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks in the secondary, it was imperative that the Tigers sign a strong group of defensive backs, and by all accounts Swinney did just that.
“It was an area of the team where we’re going to need some help early,” Swinney said.
Top Of The Class
CB Mackensie Alexander (Immokalee, Fla., High)—Alexander was a signing-day surprise for Clemson, who landed the five-star cornerback over Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and others. He recorded 51 tackles and had four interceptions last season, including two he returned for touchdowns, and could be in line for early playing time at Clemson. “He can fly,” Swinney said. “He’s got great ball skills. He’s a tackler. He’s a physical presence when he steps on the field, and then he’s got the instincts and toughness.”
LB Ben Boulware (Hanna High, Anderson, S.C.)—Boulware is the No. 1 prospect in South Carolina and the No. 3 inside linebacker in the country. He had 175 tackles as a senior and was Defensive MVP of the South Carolina Shrine Bowl team. The 6-1, 225-pounder is a fierce competitor with a high motor who spurned offers from Georgia, Tennessee and Texas A&M, among others.
OT Tyrone Crowder (Richmond Senior High, Rockingham, N.C.)—Clemson’s final commitment on signing day was its biggest, literally. Crowder, a 6-2, 335-pound offensive guard, was ranked No. 5 nationally and the No. 3 overall prospect in North Carolina. He chose the Tigers over Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida State and Tennessee.
• The departure of defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison to Auburn in December may have been a blessing in disguise for Clemson. Coach Dabo Swinney replaced Harbison with former N.C. State defensive backs coach Mike Reed, and the impact was immediate. Reed helped turn multiple recruits toward the Tigers, including five-star CB Mackensie Alexander and three-star DBs Korrin Wiggins and Marcus Edmond, who had previously been committed to North Carolina and N.C. State, respectively.
• Clemson welcomed four early enrollees in January: DB Jadar Johnson, TE Jordan Leggett and DLs Ebenezer Ogundeko and Shaq Lawson. They will participate with the team in offseason conditioning and spring practice.
Practice priorities: The secondary will be a definite area of focus this spring, what with the graduation of three starting defensive backs. Clemson’s secondary was repeatedly burned by chunk plays last season, even with veterans, so Dabo Swinney will be expecting improvement there. Other areas of concern are running back, where the Tigers need to find a dependable replacement for 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington, and receiver, where the jump of playmaker DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL has left the Tigers scrambling for a reliable complement to Sammy Watkins.
If answers emerge between spring and fall, Clemson could be headed for another 11-win season, particularly with a favorable schedule that includes home games against Georgia and Florida State.
Quote To Note: “It’s all about personnel. I really feel like today is another step toward being the consistent program that we want to be.”—Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on his 2013 recruiting class
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Key Losses: RB Andre Ellington, WR DeAndre Hopkins, C Dalton Freeman
Players To Watch In 2013:
QB Tajh Boyd - He announced he would return for a senior season on Jan. 10, and Tigers fans rejoiced. Boyd has grown by leaps and bounds since being thrown into the starting lineup as a sophomore, and he has emerged as a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate. First-team All-ACC quarterback each of the past two seasons, Boyd is coming off a season in which he passed for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns. There’s no reason he can’t produce similar numbers in 2013.
WR Sammy Watkins—Watkins had a sub-par season in 2012—by his standards. After a record-breaking freshman season, Watkins’ production did drop considerably last season, but he still had 708 yards on 54 receptions. With DeAndre Hopkins gone to the NFL, expect Boyd to lean on Watkins more in 2013.
S Travis Blanks—He had an immediate impact as a freshman last year, making nine starts and accumulating 51 tackles while splitting time between linebacker and safety. The 6-1, 190-pounder is slated to be the Tigers’ starting safety for the next three years, and he possesses the talent and versatility to deliver. He may just be a sophomore in 2013, but expect him to be a leader on the Tigers’ defense.
• Reserve QB Morgan Roberts has left the Clemson program and plans to enroll at Yale University and play football there. The 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman from Charlotte, N.C., was Clemson’s Most Improved Player among quarterbacks last spring, when he completed 14 of 24 passes for 149 yards in the spring game. “I just felt like re-evaluating places I had looked at coming out of high school, a couple of places that were a better overall fit for me as an individual,” Roberts said.
• Sophomore LB Lateek Townsend announced in January that he would transfer. Townsend, a 6-2, 215-pound sophomore, had just 10 tackles in 28 snaps in 2012. He was ranked as the No. 5 outside linebacker in the nation by ESPN.com coming out of high school in Bennettsville, S.C.