NORTHWESTERN COMMAND – Rarely do programs sign one five-star talent in a recruiting class let alone four like Clemson did in 2011. The class, the five stars, were supposed to be the core that would eventually propel Clemson to a special season in 2013 or 2014.
But as we near 2013 there are some serious questions surrounding this group.
Namely, will it ever meet expectations?
Let’s look at the four five-star talents in the class:
Five-star No. 1: Mike Bellamy.We know what happened here, Bellamy was immature and lacked focused and as a result his elite speed was dismissed from the team as he was not academically eligible to play in 2012. Attrition happens.
Five star No. 2: Sammy Watkins. Watkins burst on the scene in 2011 becoming just the third true freshman, first-team All-American in college football history joining Adrian Peterson and Herschel Walker. Elite company.
I’m still a Watkins guy. But his 2012 season was a stunning regression. He never looked as explosive as he did in 2011 and he seemed to struggle to develop as a downfield receiver. Most of his catches came at or near the line of scrimmage. His TD reception totals dropped from 12 to 3. His yards per catch declined from 14 to 12. He might have never been 100 percent physically, and we know about the suspension. It could be just a down year. But with DeAndre Hopkins likely departing, Clemson needs Watkins to be the 2011 version in 2013 to sustain the same level of offensive performance we witnessed this fall.
Five star No. 3: Tony Steward: Steward was advertised as the rare, rugged, three-down linebacker who could do it all and make highlight hits in the process. He was supposed to be a franchise-type defender. Unfortunately for Steward and Clemson, he suffered ACL tears as a high school senior and freshman and in 2012 he languished on special teams.
There’s been recent studies that suggest players’ return from ACL surgery is not automatic as we had come to suspect. We know even less about players who have had ACL repairs to both knees in a two-year span. Steward probably should have redshirted in 2012. He will enter 2013 as a junior with 109 career snaps at linebacker and fighting for a starting job.
Five star No. 4: Stephone Anthony: Anthony was expected to be an emerging star in 2012. He is an instinctive and athletic player who was handed the starting middle linebacker job and was expected to be an impact player after showing flashes late in 2011.
Instead, Anthony lost his job to Spencer Shuey, who was more physical and seemed more sound in tackling and in control of the defense. Coaches haven’t ruled out moving Anthony to weak-side linebacker where he would be allowed to play more freely.
Sure, the class is more than just five-star talents. Isaiah Battle, Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake all each have star potential. Even if every five-star sans Watkins washed out it could still be an above-average class. But it was these four five-star talents that were expected to be core pieces for the Clemson offense and defense. Great teams, need great players, and the best bet to find a future first-round pick is through a five-star talent.
While it’s too early to write off Steward or Anthony, half of their college eligibility is experienced. Bellamy is gone. And if Watkins returns to his previous level of performance next season he’ll be a first-round pick 2014.
Though they signed 22 months ago, time is running out on the five-stars of 2011.
THE INTERESTING THING ABOUT BLOSSOMGAME, AND THE INTERESTING THING BRAD BROWNELL SAID
*Yes, he’s taking a medical redshirt this season, but prized recruit Jaron Blossomgame hasn’t stopped competing. I was told by someone close to the team that Blossomgame wowed the staff with his competitive nature in a rebounding drill this week where he and Adonis Filer were like men among boys — and they’re not even big men.
*This should be very encouraging to the staff because Brownell considers competitiveness to be a skill like running, jumping or shooting. You either have it or you don’t Brownell, believes, and he’s been trying to load up his roster with more competitors. I think he has some in Filer, Blossomgame, McDaniels and Hall.
*Brownell said he was not surprised with the transfer of guard T.J. Sapp. Brownell was not specific on why he thought Sapp would transfer other than noting there’s a log jam of combo guards, including Filer who is averaging more minutes than Sapp. BYU transfer Damarcus Harrison will take Sapp’s place in the starting lineup.
*Clemson small forward K.J. McDaniels has increased his scoring by eight points per game and it’s a jump Brownell said the staff expected him to make this season. Brownell said the staff liked McDaniels’ shooting mechanics on the recruiting trail, it’s just been a matter of making a slight adjustment and repetition. His explosive leaping ability has always been apparent. Brownell said the next step is for McDaniels to improve his dribble-drive ability and playing speed and be like Arizona small forward Solomon Hill, who McDaniels will defend on Saturday.
*What do Clemson players remember about Arizona last season?
“Their speed” McDaniels said.
Arizona likes to run, evident with its 81.5 ppg scoring average. Clemson is a no-doubt undergo against the No. 8 wildcats but Clemson can run the floor better then they were capable of a year ago.