Continuing preparations for the April 9 spring game and 2016 season, the Clemson football team held an intrasquad scrimmage inside Memorial Stadium on Wednesday.
Competing once again inside Death Valley – offense vs. defense, head-to-head, simulating game situations – made it clear to Clemson’s coaches that the Tigers still have a long way to go between now and September.
“A lot of good things are happening, but we’re a work in progress, and we got a bunch of moving parts right now,” head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said he was pleased to see his defenders get their hands on balls and cause turnovers, but was disappointed that they incurred multiple offsides penalties and struggled in goal-line work.
“Still have a long ways to go, but we’re seeing in that first and second group kind of who can do what, and guys getting better, improving, in both their knowledge and their technique and their aggression,” Venables said. “Playing a bunch of young guys that are growing up fast, and it’s encouraging to see.”
True freshman Dexter Lawrence, participating in his first stadium scrimmage since enrolling in January, provided one of Wednesday’s top highlights. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound defensive tackle intercepted a pass on what Swinney said might have been his first snap of the day.
Just as impressive: Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who is listed at just 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, managed to tackle Lawrence at the end of a 32-yard return.
“Renfrow hawked him down and just tomahawked him,” Swinney said. “It was unbelievable.”
In addition to his interception, Lawrence had three tackles, including one sack.
Another standout from Wednesday’s scrimmage, also on the defensive side of the ball, was sophomore defensive tackle Albert Huggins, who recorded a team-leading three tackles for loss, including one sack.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Kendall Joseph, who is penciled to start at the Mike position this year, and sophomore linebacker J.D. Davis led the defense in Wednesday’s scrimmage with seven tackles each. Senior cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, the only returning starter in Clemson’s secondary, intercepted the ball twice, though one of those picks was erased by a penalty.
Starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who saw most of his work in red zone/goal line simulations, went 6-of-11 passing for 63 yards and two touchdowns Wednesday. Redshirt sophomore running back Adam Choice, who missed last season while recovering from a torn ACL, gained 51 yards on 11 carries. Fellow redshirt sophomore C.J. Fuller also had 11 carries, and gained 29 yards, while Wayne Gallman had 27 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns in short-yardage situations.
Redshirt sophomore kicker Greg Huegel, who noteworthily struggled on kickoffs last season, “really kicked off well” in the scrimmage, Swinney said. Another player who stood out on special teams Wednesday, in Swinney’s view, was redshirt freshman safety Tanner Muse.
“This kid is going to be a special teams demon,” Swinney said of Muse. “You see his speed showing up, because he’s just more confident.”
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Trevion Thompson started Wednesday with the first-team offense, and finished the scrimmage with three receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown, but his day was not perfect. After making a mistake in the red zone on the opening drive that led to an interception, Thompson was demoted to the second-team offense. He responded well.
“Trevion really started slow, but really finished strong,” Swinney said.
At the same time, Swinney said Thompson is just one of many players who needs to “show up ready to compete” when the Tigers return to Death Valley for another scrimmage next week.
“Hopefully the guys that did well today can be consistent next week, and show that consistency, and the guys that maybe didn’t do quite as well as they would have liked will improve,” Swinney said. “That’s why we’re trying to do, just keep getting better. I like their chemistry, and if we can continue to compete like we competed, we’re going to be just fine.”
Carter seeing time at corner
If the season started right now, redshirt junior defensive back Ryan Carter would start opposite Tankersley at cornerback, Venables said. While sophomore Mark Fields had been penciled into that role, Venables said Fields is “not ready” for a starting job yet.
Carter began the spring working as a safety, but that was before redshirt junior cornerback Adrian Baker suffered a torn ACL and redshirt freshman Kaleb Chalmers was dismissed from the team. Since the loss of those two players, Carter has returned to playing cornerback.