The three biggest depth-chart questions Clemson football needs to answer in August

9-11 minutes 8/4/2023
After months of Florida State momentum, the Clemson football team remained preseason kings of the ACC when the conference released its media poll Tuesday.
But the Tigers, who kick off three weeks of fall camp Friday, want more than just offseason hardware. Or their eighth ACC championship over the past nine seasons.
Clemson was a home loss from rival South Carolina away from making the 2022 College Football Playoff, and returning to that four-team field — in the last year before it expands to 12 teams — remains the expectation for coach Dabo Swinney’s program in 2023.
Many positions are settled for the Tigers, who finished last season 11-3 and ranked No. 13 in the final AP Top 25 after losing to Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson returns 64% of its offensive production and 75% of its defensive production, per ESPN Analytics. Seven of 11 starters, including four of five offensive linemen, are back on offense and eight of 11 starters, including the entire secondary, are back on defense.
That’s not to mention the potential of sophomore quarterback Cade Klubnik paired with his new offensive coordinator and position coach Garrett Riley, last year’s new big thing at TCU.
But football’s a game of margins — slim margins, as a 31-30 loss to the Gamecocks made quite obvious — and that means every position matters. As such, here are three lingering depth-chart questions for Clemson as 2023 fall camp begins.
Who emerges as the backup quarterback?
Klubnik is QB1 — that’s crystal clear. But things are a little bit murkier behind him, where Hunter Helms, Paul Tyson and Christopher Vizzina are all competing for reps.
Vizzina has the most long-term potential. He is Clemson’s hand-picked quarterback in the Class of 2023 who was a top-50 prospect nationally and a five-star recruit by some websites coming out of Briarwood (Ala.) Christian School.
But Helms, a former walk-on who impressed in the spring game, and Tyson, a graduate transfer who was limited all spring with a wrist injury, are also pushing for the position. Clemson’s tentative plan to redshirt Vizzina (and play him in four or fewer games) is also a factor here, although Swinney emphasized such plans “rarely go according to script.”
This could all be a nonissue if Klubnik makes his widely expected jump and stays healthy. But if he gets banged up or needs to get pulled for a series amid a poor game — that happened to DJ Uiagalelei each of the past two seasons — who is the steadiest option for Clemson?
Helms seems like the choice today, but camp could change that.
Who is Clemson’s No. 2 receiver in 2023?
Antonio Williams recorded all sorts of milestones as a true freshman wide receiver and proved that he’s a plug-and-play guy who can contribute all over the field and on special teams for Clemson.
There’s certainly room for improvement — Williams muffed a key punt against South Carolina and had a few dud games in 2022 — but the Tigers can and should feel good about his development. He’s added some weight but remains just as fast (if not faster) entering his second year.
But Williams, at 5-foot-11, can only shoulder so much. The Tigers need consistent contributions from bigger-bodied receivers such as Beaux Collins (6-3), Adam Randall (6-2) and Cole Turner (6-1) if they’re going to legitimately contend for a CFP spot.
Collins appeared to be on track for that with a four-game touchdown streak to start the year before fading midway through and hurting his shoulder, while Randall spent most of 2022 getting back up to speed after a spring ACL tear and Turner didn’t emerge until late.
Clemson is hoping Riley’s new air raid offensive system can kick those receivers into gear and open up more deep-ball opportunities (something Turner specifically impressed with in limited snaps). The Tigers have had a number of receivers including E.J. Williams and Joseph Ngata flash in recent seasons, but that’s one thing. Putting it all together is another.
Who replaces T.J. Dudley at linebacker?
Dudley could have feasibly been the first linebacker off the bench for Clemson after appearing in four games as a true freshman and making some strides throughout the spring.
But he’s off to the SEC after getting dismissed by Clemson for an undisclosed violation of team rules on July 19. Dudley, a former four-star recruit, also entered the transfer portal that afternoon and announced his commitment to Ole Miss on July 28.
Make no mistake: Clemson’s stacked at this spot. Star middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and weakside linebacker Barrett Carter were preseason All-ACC picks. And the versatile Wade Woodaz will slide in for NFL Draft third-rounder Trenton Simpson at strongside linebacker.
But with the departures of Dudley, LaVonta Bentley and Keith Maguire, Clemson’s down to six scholarship linebackers. Behind Clemson’s starters, redshirt freshman Kobe McCloud played three defensive snaps in 2022, and Dee Crayton and Jamal Anderson are both true freshmen.
Trotter and Carter are iron men and should play a ton and rack up stats in 2023. But they can’t take every snap, and Clemson will also lean on Woodaz’s versatility as a nickelback and safety. The emergence of a clear fourth linebacker wouldn’t hurt — even if Clemson can get away with trotting out two most of the time. Defensive back Khalil Barnes may even get some reps there.

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