By Morgan Thomas of "The Morgan Thomas Show"
QB Cade Klubnik - If you ask any Clemson fan this year who they are looking forward to seeing perform on the field the most, I would guarantee that the majority would say quarterback Cade Klubnik. The true freshman from Austin, Texas has been getting a lot of praise from head coach Dabo Swinney this spring.
“He looks almost identical to Deshaun,” Swinney said. “Like, literally, if you took their January pictures when they got here and put them side by side, they’re like clones. Shoulders. Arms. Body type. Just where they were weight-wise in getting here. And I think Deshaun was 200 come August.”
I personally remember meeting a true freshman Watson at Clemson’s annual Recruiting Wrap Up Dinner. My initial evaluation of Kulbnik was exactly the same. From a distance, you can tell he is a gamer but he needs to add weight to be able to handle the hits in college. Klubnik seems to have answered the challenge to bulk up as well.
“I’m not going to be pouting if he’s 198 or 205, but he looks great,” Swinney said. “He’s really progressing like you need him to.”
Keep your eyes on the highly touted Gatorade Player of the Year wearing the No. 2 jersey.
QB DJ Uiagalelei - 2021 was a season to forget for the Clemson offense. The Tigers finished 98th in the nation in yards per game. This was a massive fall off from 2020 when the team finished 8th in the same category. The man they call “Big Cinco” because of his large frame and jersey No. 5, wasn’t the only reason for the failures on offense. The list is long, from dropped balls by the receivers, lack of experience on the offensive line and injuries to just about everyone on the team. Unfortunately, when you are the quarterback for an elite team, you are the leader and the leader takes most of the criticism from those watching. Many fans are already looking to Klubnik and the next chapter. However, Uiagalelei is ready for the challenge to prove himself in 2022.
"I'm a fighter man," Uiagalelei said. "Faced adversity my whole life. It's not going to bother me. I'm just gonna take it on the chin, take it head up. And I'm just gonna continue to keep growing from it, learn from it and just keep fighting."
Will the former 5-star recruit from California get back to his 2020 success when he filled in for Trevor Lawrence?
Uiagalelei has used this offense to get healthy, he has already lost around 20 pounds and is around 240 but would like to get to 230 if he can. He has also sought out professional training in throwing mechanics and footwork, attending 3DQB camp this spring.
WR Brannon Spector - One of the biggest missing pieces for the Clemson offense in 2021 was the absence of a shifty, play-making, Hunter Renfrow, Amari Rodgers type slot receiver. Spector missed the entire season with respiratory challenges stemming from his battle with COVID-19. The redshirt Junior enters this season with a total of 19 catches over 14 games played.
The Tigers had to rely on a squad of players to fill the slot position last year. Will Taylor, Justyn Ross and Will Brown all had opportunities but none could provide the spark that Clemson needed to keep the offense moving down the field. It wasn’t until later in the season that Beaux Collins met the challenge and provided the much-needed spark. However, Collins is not a traditional slot receiver type player that Clemson usually relies on. If Spector can return to that role, it will give Collins an opportunity to show what he can do on the outside.
Finding the right players for the right positions is only part of the challenge that Clemson has dealt with. Staying healthy at receiver has been a major obstacle that still has yet to be addressed. Currently, Clemson has two receivers out of nine that I would consider “healthy.” Meaning that they are not currently injured or returning from injury. Out of being superstitious, I’m not going to write their names. The point is, Clemson needs to continue to get healthy at receiver, specifically the slot position.
RB Phil Mafah - Continuing the discussion around injuries, another position that has been negatively impacted this spring is the running back room. Rotational starters Kobe Pace and Will Shipley have not been able to fully practice this spring. That has provided rising sophomore Phil Mafah the opportunity to be the No. 1 running back.
"I'm really appreciative of it," said Mafah. "It's really helped me out with my confidence, build chemistry with other players, step up into that leadership role. I really feel like it's a good thing."
One of his family members reminded me during a recent show that Mafah was the only running back to score a touchdown in the 2021 spring game. As with the receiver group, the main concern is getting everyone healthy and staying healthy.
The big punishing running back finished 2021 with 292 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The most popular is his 63-yards run against Florida State where he shed 5 tackles before going down at the 14 yard line.
CB Nate Wiggins - I haven’t given much love to the defense on this list and rightfully so. The most consistent unit for the Tigers in 2021 was the defense. With 8 expected returning starters the unit expects to be one of the best in the nation again. In 2021 the Tiger's defense allowed only 313.2 yards per game, 7th best in the nation and almost 30 yards better than 2020.
Cornerback is a position that is ready for new faces. Both starters from last year, Andrew Booth Jr. and Mario Goodrich are off to the NFL. For the players who have been patiently waiting for their chance, 2022 is their time to shine. Defensive Backs coach Mike Reed has been impressed by what he has seen from Nate Wiggins this spring.
“He’s changed. I mean speed, route recognition and he’s ultimately competitive. He’s going to be a good one. If he keeps making the strides that he is making,” Reed said. “I’m excited for all of them actually. The maturity, the process he went through. It’s beautiful.”
The spring game has been host to a few amazing interceptions over the last few years. Will Nate Wiggins rise to the occasion and put on a show this weekend?
The Clemson Football team will compete in its annual Orange and White Game on April 9 at 1 p.m. at Clemson Memorial Stadium with The Tiger Pregame Show beginning at 9am. Catch all the action of the spring game and every game this season on 105.5FM and 97.5FM The Roar, the flagship station for Clemson Athletics.