7 players to watch as camp begins

CLEMSON - The start of camp is here as Clemson officially begins preparing for No. 5 Georgia Friday evening.

This summer has been slightly unusual, as Upstate summers go. The typical punishing heat has been far less oppressive, with far more rain than normal, leading to lower, more comfortable temperatures.

For the 105 players on Clemson's preseason roster, that will change in a big way as the beginning of preseason camp arrives Friday evening. Why?

Well the heat ramps up significantly as players begin a month-long jockey for depth chart slots heading towards Aug. 31's much-anticipated season opener against rival Georgia.

Here's a look at the seven Tigers facing the most pressure as preseason practice opens:

1. LT ISAIAH BATTLE: Battle is considered one of the best physical specimens on the line, and he performed well when pressed into emergency duty in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU. Coaches would like nothing better than for him to claim the starting left tackle role, allowing them to move versatile senior Brandon Thomas inside to left guard and solidify the line. However, Battle was inconsistent during spring practice and needs to add more bulk to his 6-foot-6, 280-pound frame in order to be a consistent every-down player. There is time for him to grab a starting role, but Battle must show improvement quickly.

2. C RYAN NORTON: No pressure here: Norton only has to step into the only official vacancy on a veteran offensive line which returns four starters that powered 2012's high-powered offense. And he's replacing four-year starter Dalton Freeman, a two-time All-ACC performer and two-time Rimington Award finalist currently fighting for a job with the NFL's New York Jets. Norton impressed coaches last year with toughness and grit, but offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell made it clear that he has not locked the job down yet. Redshirt freshman Jay Guillermo is pushing Norton hard, meaning he must quickly learn his role and build chemistry with senior All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd in the August heat.

Bryant arrived at Clemson as a four-star prospect but has largely failed to live up to his recruiting accolades. (Roy Philpott)
3. WR MARTAVIS BRYANT: Bryant arrived at Clemson as a four-star prospect but has largely failed to live up to his recruiting accolades. He averages 27.7 yards per reception, but has struggled with consistency (11 of his 24 career games feature no receptions). He suffered through an injury-riddled 2012 and was suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, leading to questions about his Clemson future. However, he rebounded with a strong spring practice and summer workouts, and will have the opportunity for significant playing time this fall following DeAndre Hopkins' early NFL departure. With a talented group of receivers behind him and on the 2014 commitment list, it might be now or never for Bryant.

4. RB ROD MCDOWELL: Two years ago, McDowell nearly transferred after failing to find depth chart traction behind Andre Elllngton. With Ellington gone to the NFL, it's Hot Rod's time to shine. He improved significantly last season, rushing for 450 yards and five touchdowns. He'll be expected to take on a much larger role this fall, which could test his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame. He also must become a better receiver, a key for backs in Chad Morris' offense; he has three career receptions for 29 yards. The competition behind him is not necessarily threatening, but with Morris' run-first ethos, Hot Rod will have to show he is tuned up and ready to fire on all cylinders.

5. MLB STEPHONE ANTHONY: Anthony arrived at Clemson as a five-star prospect, and while he has had his moments, he has yet to fulfill the promise created by his recruitment. Halfway through the 2012 season, he was supplanted in the middle by previously unheralded Spencer Shuey, who put a stranglehold on the starting role the rest of the season. Over the final seven games, Anthony started only once and saw the field for a combined 20 snaps against N.C. State, South Carolina and LSU (none against USC). With Tig Willard gone, Shuey is working outside and Anthony in the middle again. B.J. Goodson and Oklahoma transfer Kellen Jones are behind him, but Anthony must take a leap forward for Clemson's defense to show similar improvement.

6. S TRAVIS BLANKS: Blanks more than lived up to billing as a freshman, piling up 51 tackles and an interception in 563 snaps and seven starts. He did so largely playing out of position as a "Sam" linebacker, and now will step into a starting role at safety opposite junior Robert Smith. Neither Blanks nor Smith have started a game at safety in their college careers, and the onus is on them to improve a back end which was beyond soft a year ago. Behind them lies even more inexperience, so it is on Smith – and especially the talented Blanks – to lock down roles and lift the secondary with them.

7. TE STANTON SECKINGER: Over the past four years, Clemson has created a strong tight end legacy, from Michael Palmer to John Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen to Brandon Ford. Junior Sam Cooper was poised to take a swing at joining that lineage before he suffered a torn ACL in the Orange and White game, which is expected to sideline him for most, if not all, of this season. That creates a void – or opportunity for young tight ends, depending on how you view it. Seckinger, a converted wide receiver, is the most likely to benefit, although true freshman Jordan Leggett was impressive in the Orange and White game following Cooper's injury. Seckinger has four career receptions for 35 yards, and he'll need to improve those totals significantly this fall. Morris likes to use tight ends in his offense, and the pressure will be on Seckinger to rise to the occasion, and quickly.

CUTigers.com Top Stories