Examining the numbers

CLEMSON – Following Monday morning's practice, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney announced a youth movement of sorts.

With fall semester classes beginning Wednesday, the "camp" portion of preseason practice is winding to a close. This is traditionally when focus shifts towards the opening-game opponent – in this case, No.5 Georgia – and also which freshmen will play and which will, most likely, redshirt.

When asked about those freshmen, Swinney rattled off a number of players who'll avoid redshirts – defensive end Shaq Lawson, tight end Jordan Leggett, safety Jadar Johnson, wide receivers T.J. Green and Mike Williams, linebacker Ben Boulware, safety Cordrea Tankersley, safety Jayron Kearse and cornerback Korin Wiggins.

In addition, highly touted corner Mackensie Alexander, cornerback Marcus Edmond and tailbacks Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman are "borderline" to play this fall, with health being a factor in Alexander and Dye's cases.

When all is said and done, it's easy to envision 10-13 freshmen playing this fall – a surprising total given Clemson's returning talent from an 11-2 team that beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

So what does this say about the Tigers' 2013 recruiting class? Are they more talented than the players already on Clemson's roster? Are they in the right place at the right time?

Or is it a little bit of both?

Ben Boulware was an early projection by CUTigers.com to see the field. (Scout.com)
We'll examine this, but first, let's take a look at the redshirt numbers under Swinney's five-year watch, for proper perspective.

Swinney's first class was his smallest – 12 members that he dubbed "the Dandy Dozen" – ranked 42nd nationally by Scout.com. Only three of those recruits played as true freshmen in 2009 – defensive end Malliciah Goodman, linebacker Corico Hawkins and safety Jonathan Meeks – 25 percent.

2010 marked a 24-member class ranked 23rd nationally. But only four freshmen played – wideout DeAndre Hopkins, cornerback Martin Jenkins, linebacker Justin Parker and cornerback Darius Robinson.

That 2010 team finished 6-7 with a dispiriting Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to South Florida, and Swinney cleaned house on his staff, led by new offensive coordinator Chad Morris.

Of the 29-player class ranked 12th nationally, 12 played – wide receivers Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries, Charone Peake and Sammy Watkins, linebackers Stephone Anthony, Lateek Townsend and Tony Steward, quarterback Cole Stoudt, safety Robert Smith, defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and DeShawn Williams and defensive end Corey Crawford. That's 41 percent – a high number, but not surprising given the need for a quick turnaround.

That's exactly what happened – Clemson went 10-4, won its first ACC title since 1991 and made the program's first BCS bowl game. 42 of the roster's 85 scholarship players were freshmen (redshirt and true), and 29 played – tying Indiana for the nation's highest number of active freshmen. With a youth-heavy roster last fall, only six members of a 20-recruit class ranked 17th nationally by Scout.com played. They were: tackle Isaiah Battle, safety/linebacker Travis Blanks, tailback Zac Brooks, punter/kicker Bradley Pinion and defensive tackles D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins. That works out to 30 percent.

Of Swinney's 85 signees from 2009-12, 25 played, a 29.4 percent rate. That number is skewed by the Class of 2010, but essentially, one full 25-member class (the maximum number of annual first-counter signees allowed by the NCAA) played as true freshmen.

Clemson's 2013 youth movement is slightly surprising. The Tigers lost only 11 scholarship seniors from 2012, as well as Hopkins, who gave up his final season of college eligibility to enter the NFL draft where he was the Houston Texans' first-round selection.

How do you explain the freshman influx? Need.

Clemson's only freshman wide receiver letter winner a year ago was Daniel Rodriguez, who is in school on the G.I. Bill after winning a Purple Heart and other honors in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. With a good season this fall, Watkins will likely declare for the NFL draft, and Bryant, Peake and Humphries are juniors. So this is the perfect time for Green and Williams, along with redshirt freshman Germone Hopper, to get their feet wet behind the veterans.

The secondary was Clemson's weakest link last fall, and even following the returns of Jenkins and Robinson from injuries, it remains unsettled. Blanks and Smith will start the opener at safety, and it'll be both players' first career start there.

Johnson and Tankersley will contribute at safety, as will Kearse. Wiggins should provide depth at cornerback, and assuming he gets healthy quickly enough, so Will Alexander. Edmond could also contribute there.

"This fall's youth movement might just be a case of the cream rising to the top, and setting the stage for future success."

With Brandon Ford's graduation and Sam Cooper's torn ACL (Cooper could return as early as October 1 following an excellent recovery), tight end was extremely thin – sophomore Stanton Seckinger, senior Darrell Smith (who has spent most of his career as a blocker) and redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCullough.

Leggett suffered a sprained knee Saturday and will likely miss the Georgia game, but has big-play ability and could return as early as Sept. 7 against South Carolina State.

Boulware appears to have bulled his way into playing time by sheer will; coaches rave about his intensity, as well as his ability to help as a special teams force.

As for Dye and Gallman, their fates will likely be decided closer to the season. With Rod McDowell, Zac Brooks and walk-on C.J. Davidson leading the way, coaches would love to redshirt one or both. But news that junior D.J. Howard underwent minor surgery to clean up his ankle could open the door for either to play – Morris has stated that he wants to use three to four backs per game in a bruising, physical running game.

If 11 freshmen ultimately play, that would be 47 percent of the Class of 2013 – or enough to fill all the spots left behind by 2012's departed seniors.

So it sounds like a lot, but consider this: Clemson's class of 2013 was rated 12th by Scout – same as the class of 2011. This fall's youth movement might just be a case of the cream rising to the top, and setting the stage for future success.

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