Football at Clemson resumes this week as the Tigers are set to begin spring practice Wednesday.
Dabo Swinney’s squad will have several new faces in key starting positions in 2021, most notably quarterback and running back with Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne off to the NFL.
Still, Clemson has several key pieces returning, including star wideout Justyn Ross and defensive leader James Skalski.
Speaking of defense, Brent Venables returns almost everyone on his unit, with linebacker Mike Jones Jr. being the only starter who is no longer on the team. Jones Jr. transferred to LSU this offseason.
With spring practice starting up, here is a look at what Clemson’s starting lineup might look like next season:
Clemson roster: Projecting starters on offense
Quarterback — D.J. Uiagalelei: The sophomore is expected to be the next great QB at Clemson, following in the footsteps of Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. Uiagalelei certainly looked the part in limited playing time last season, completing 67 percent of his passes for 914 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw for 781 yards and four scores in his two starts against Boston College and Notre Dame.
Running back — Lyn-J Dixon: This is far from a lock to be Dixon’s job, but he’s the leader heading into the spring. Dixon was the No. 2 back behind Travis Etienne last year and played well late in the season after some nagging injuries slowed him early on. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry the final three games of the season.
Wide receiver — Justyn Ross: Clemson’s top wideout missed all of last year after undergoing surgery for a congenital fusion in his spine, but the hope is he will be cleared by the start of the 2021 season. If so, he should resume his place as one of the best receivers in the country.
Wide receiver — E.J. Williams: An Alabama native who attended the same high school as Ross, Williams came on strong at the end of last year and should make another jump this offseason. He had a breakout game in last year’s ACC title game against Notre Dame, hauling in four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Williams started the final four games of his freshman season.
Wide receiver — Joseph Ngata: Clemson’s coaching staff has raved about Ngata since he stepped on campus in January of 2019, but he has been unable to live up to the monster expectations. The California native has only 24 receptions in 22 games so far in his college career. He battled injuries most of the 2020 season before having surgery in November. The hope is that Ngata will be fully healed and in line for a big 2021 season.
Tight end — Braden Galloway: The senior started all 12 games for the Tigers last season and caught 27 passes for 369 yards. He still has some work to do as a blocker but should be an under-the-radar weapon for Uiagalelei in 2021.
Left tackle — Jordan McFadden: With Jackson Carman off to the NFL, McFadden could slide over from his spot as the starting right tackle and be in charge of protecting Uiagalelei’s blind side. The Dorman product has played a limited amount of snaps at left tackle during his career.
Left guard — Matt Bockhorst: The senior started all 12 games last year and was named second-team All-ACC. He will be one of the leaders on the o-line.
Center — Mason Trotter: The sophomore hasn’t locked this position down by any means, but he’s the favorite right now. Trotter played 147 snaps as a backup in 2020, including 46 at Notre Dame.
Right guard — Will Putnam: The Tampa native started all 12 games for the Tigers in 2020 and should hold down a starting spot again this season.
Right tackle — Walker Parks: The sophomore was named a freshman All-American by ESPN after playing 199 snaps over 11 games in 2020. Parks was ranked as the No. 50 overall player in the country by the 247Sports Composite rankings for the class of 2020.
Clemson roster: Projecting starters on defense
Defensive end — Justin Foster: He missed all of the 2020 season due to “protocol,” but if Foster is healthy and able to play he should provide a much needed boost to Clemson’s defensive front in 2021. Foster led Clemson’s defensive line in tackles for loss in 2019 before missing last season.
Defensive tackle — Bryan Bresee: The No. 1 overall recruit for the class of 2020 lived up to the hype in his freshman season, earning freshman All-American honors after recording 6.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Bresee was also named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. The sophomore should take a big step forward in 2021 after spending another offseason in Clemson’s program.
Defensive tackle — Tyler Davis: He battled injuries last season but was disruptive when he was on the field, finishing with five tackles for loss in seven games. The junior should be one of the best defensive linemen in the ACC in 2021 if he can stay healthy.
Defensive end — Myles Murphy: The freshman All-American and ACC Newcomer of the Year led Clemson with 12 tackles for loss in 2020. If his freshman season was any indication, It appears as though Murphy is going to be the next great pass rusher at Clemson.
SAM linebacker — Trenton Simpson: With Jones Jr. moving on, Simpson should move into a full-time starting role. Simpson appeared in all 12 games last year as a freshman, making three starts. The Charlotte native had 6.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. He is versatile and explosive.
MIKE linebacker — James Skalski: Clemson’s defensive leader is back for a sixth season after recording 44 tackles, with 3.5 tackles for loss last year. Skalski, who has been described by Dabo Swinney as the “heart and soul” of Clemson’s defense, had a frustrating 2020 season that included missing time due to injuries and being ejected in the Sugar Bowl for targeting. If he can stay on the field in 2021 he should be a difference maker for Venables’ unit.
WILL linebacker — Baylon Spector: The Georgia native considered leaving early for the NFL but should benefit from another year in school. In his first season as a starter, Spector earned second-team All-ACC honors, led the Tigers in tackles with 72 and had 10.5 tackles for loss.
Cornerback — Derion Kendrick: The Rock Hill native had a forgettable Sugar Bowl against Ohio State (as did most of the Clemson defense) but he’s still the best cornerback on the team and one of the best in the country. Kendrick was considered to be a potential first-round pick if he left early following the 2020 season. He can certainly play his way into the first round with a strong performance in 2021.
Strong safety — Lannden Zanders: Another player who battled injuries last season, Zanders was less than 100 percent in the Sugar Bowl and it showed. He had shoulder surgery shortly after the season ended. If he can get healthy and stay healthy, Zanders should lock down a starting role. With that said, it’s far from a guarantee after the safeties struggled mightily against the Buckeyes.
Free safety — Nolan Turner: Another player who is back for a sixth season, Turner will be the leader of the secondary in 2021. He was named a second-team All-American last year after finishing with 66 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and a team-high three interceptions.
Cornerback — Andrew Booth: The junior made plenty of highlight-reel plays in 2020. Now he must focus on being more consistent. If he can improve in that area, he has a chance to challenge Kendrick as the best cornerback on the team and arguably in the ACC.
Clemson Tigers 2021 football schedule
Sept. 4: Georgia (Charlotte)
Sept. 11: vs. South Carolina State
Sept. 18: vs. Georgia Tech
Sept. 25: at NC State
Oct. 2: vs. Boston College
Oct. 9: OPEN
Oct. 15 (Fri): at Syracuse
Oct. 23: at Pitt
Oct. 30: vs. Florida State
Nov. 6: at Louisville
Nov. 13: vs. UConn
Nov. 20: vs. Wake Forest
Nov. 27: at South Carolina
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