Who has to step up after “big loss” of Charone Peake?

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON — Well, that dateline’s a little misleading. We had a meeting of the minds Wednesday at the Post and Courier, some prep work for the rest of the season. Always nice to make a trip to the mothership, in such a lovely city…

The day, however, was not as pleasant for WR Charone Peake, who suffered a season-ending knee injury when he tore his ACL in Tuesday evening’s practice. It was a non-contact play; just an unfortunate occurrence during the first NC State prep session.

Peake was doing a nice job in the early goings in that Jaron Brown role; catching some intermediate routes and running the occasional deep pattern, while showing nice footwork and hands on his 3-yard touchdown catch from Cole Stoudt against S.C. State.

“This is a big loss. Charone was having a great year and was going to have a great year,” head coach Dabo Swinney said in a release. “We are thin at receiver with just six scholarship players now. We like to carry 10 at that position. We have good players, but we don’t have a lot of bodies.”

So what now for the Tigers? The issue is, they like running lots of multiple sets, which requires depth at the position. Like Swinney said, the talent is more plentiful than the depth, and that’s going to put offensive coordinator Chad Morris and wide receivers coach/whiz kid Jeff Scott to the test. Luckily, No. 3-ranked Clemson’s got a full week, not two or three days, to adjust the gameplan against the Wolf Pack.

You already know about Sammy Watkins, and probably about Martavis Bryant. Here’s who else you need to get acquainted with to fill Brown’s ‘field’ role at receiver (career stats):

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7 at 7: Notes from Saturday’s scrimmage, including the starting running back and the most important Tiger besides Tajh Boyd

Roderick McDowell

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – See what I did there? We can go 7 at 7 p.m. as well as in the a.m.

1) Since the quarterback position has been settled without a shadow of a doubt, the most intriguing positional battle in Clemson football camp on offense focuses on the starting tailback.

Of course, it won’t be just one featured runner. For now, at least, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney favors senior Roderick McDowell, who leads all Tigers tailbacks with 674 career rushing yards – which are actually nearly 100 fewer than quarterback Tajh Boyd’s career total.

“Rod’s our starter. He’s clearly earned the right to be the starter,” Swinney said Saturday, two weeks before the opener vs. Georgia. “But he can’t do it by himself. We’re going to be a running back by committee, and that’s fine. When you do what we do and you play as many snaps as we play, we’ve got to be able to have a good crop of guys.”

The other big name to watch is true sophomore Zac Brooks, who averaged 4.6 yards a carry in limited duty last year and has produced a consistently solid camp.

“He’s obviously a little bit bigger,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Moving the chains right now, doing some good things in pass protection, catches the ball really well.”

Brooks is listed as 6-foot-1, 190 pounds after pre-camp weigh-ins. McDowell is 5-10, 200, while D.J. Howard is 6-0, 195, so whatever Morris is seeing, Brooks might simply be playing bigger than his measureables.

“D.J. and Hot Rod do the same too, but he’s just a bigger body,” Morris said. “He’s got more of a tendency to be a punishing-style runner.”

Freshmen Tyshon Dye (5-11, 215), who’s missed the past week with a bad back, and Wayne Gallman (6-1, 200) are redshirt candidates. Walk-on C.J. Davison is also in the mix for carries.

2) While the baby-faced secondary goes through growing pains, Clemson’s defense will hinge early on its experienced front seven.

“I don’t think we’re dominant yet, but we are much, much improved in the defensive line and linebacker position from where we were last year at this time,” Swinney said. “Now will they make the same type of improvement? We will see. And we better be. Because we’ve got a really tough challenge right out of the gate.”

Darrell Smith3) In 37 career games, fifth-year senior Darrell Smith has one recorded one stat besides his 25 special-teams tackles: one catch, one yard, last year.

With the tight end position ravaged by injuries to Sam Cooper and Jordan Leggett, the listed fullback Smith is working at tight end.

“Darrell Smith has been awesome. Probably as important as Tajh right now to our offense,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to keep Darrell healthy and ready to go. He is that important to what we do in everything. He brings that toughness that we have to have.”

Added Boyd: “Darrell Smith is a big part of this offense right now. He’s a fifth-year senior who’s a selfless guy when he steps on that field. He’s going to have a big impact on us this season.”

Smith is referred to by teammates as a soft-spoken leader, but his role might be increasing very soon.

“I’m working on my craft,” Smith said. “Working on my pass routes, trying to catch the ball better, and improve my blocking every day.”

4) Upon discussing the knee injury to freshman athlete T.J. Green on Aug. 7, Swinney said ominously, “it doesn’t look good.”

Yet Green escaped a torn ACL prognosis, and returned to drills this week. On Saturday, he caught three passes during the scrimmage and was tackled without issue, a highly encouraging sign.

“He’s practiced well the last few days,” Swinney said. “Ran the ball after the catch well, returned kicks. He feels good.”

5) Swinney gathered his players and told them not to buy into the hype surrounding the program this season.

Once. And then, that was the end of it.

It hasn’t been a recurring topic in team meetings, even after the Associated Press poll released Saturday matched the coaches’ poll rating of No. 8 for the Tigers.

“I really don’t pay attention to it,” defensive end Corey Crawford said. “I don’t know how to comment on it, because we have to play regardless of whether we’re No. 1 or the last one. It really doesn’t matter until the end.”

6) Even though he’s just 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds – usually a body type fit for an outside linebacker – defensive end Vic Beasley has a chance to terrorize many a quarterback trying to pick apart Clemson’s defense.

“He plays like he’s 270. He can get into some mismatch situations, but his skill set allows him to overcome a lot of those things,” Swinney said. “His strength, his length, his speed, and his motor. He can be on the field on any down.”

7) This is probably the best way anybody could sum up a skilled yet raw group of freshmen going through their first fall camp, hoping to produce as early as 2013:

“The consistency is the thing,” Swinney said, “but they are flashy from time to time.”

Look for Leggett, Green, cornerback Mackensie Alexander, defensive end Shaq Lawson and defensive backs Jayron Kearse and Korrin Wiggins to definitely play early in their careers. The rest of the pack is still hoping to contribute this season, but many will redshirt and prepare for 2014.

Practice report: Clemson plows through the injury bug

Martin Jenkins

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – The injured list continues to shrink and grow by the day for Clemson; while some guys return, others go down with a groin or a hamstring or a buttock. (Yes, you read correctly. Hold your questions for a minute.)

If it’s any consolation – not that pain and suffering should be taken lightly – Georgia’s dealing with more of the same. Literally: more.

Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph – who you’ll hear from frequently the week leading up to Aug. 31 – has an exhaustive report on the nicks and dings ravaging the Bulldogs’ depth chart during fall camp.

Even as the Tigers go through scrimmages with four available cornerbacks, while the wide receivers conduct a conga line through the trainer’s room, head coach Dabo Swinney isn’t about to coddle the Tigers.

“I don’t think you can practice scared,” Swinney said Monday at noon following a morning session, and seven hours before an evening practice.

Two-a-days proceed as scheduled.

“We’ve got a well-thought-out plan of preparation, and we’ve got to execute our plan. There’s no other way to get your team ready, especially if you aren’t opening with a team like Georgia, then maybe you can pace some guys a little bit differently.”

Full story: Targeting, ejections a jarring concern for defenses

Once fall camp transitions into game week, the Tigers will throttle back. But not with 19 days to go before the opener.

“There’s a few guys you can probably hold here and there in some spots,” Swinney said. “But at this point, it’s way too early for that. You’ve got to go through it.”

The latest batch is improving, on the bright side. Cornerback Garry Peters was “full-go” Monday; cornerbacks Darius Robinson (concussion) and Mackensie Alexander (groin) were confidently rehabbing, with hopes of a midweek return; and cornerback Adrian Baker has an MRI for his knee scheduled this afternoon, though there doesn’t appear to have structural damage in any ligaments and can put weight on the leg.

Then there’s cornerback Martin Jenkins, who took a medical redshirt last year with hernia surgery. He’s got an even more unique injury in camp.

“Martin has … I don’t know a better way to say it … but he’s got an arthritic deal in his butt. I don’t know how else to say it,” Swinney said. “It’s genetic. His dad had the same thing. It’s a matter of trying to get the right medication, and trying to get the dosage right to where he can go.”

Jenkins was able to go through team drills and 1-on-1 drills Monday morning.

“(The trainers) feel like they’ve got a good plan in place, and he was able to do more today than he’s been able to do,” Swinney said. “It can be treated and it can get better. It’s just a matter of when.”

Wide receiver T.J. Green, who avoided an ACL scare last week, could return sometime this week. Martavis Bryant and Adam Humphries have bolstered the position’s depth by returning.

Maybe if the Tigers were opening against, say, Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern, it’d be different.

“There’s no way to prepare our team for what they’re going to face than try to create that type of atmosphere on your practice field every day,” Swinney said. “If you don’t, then you’re not giving them a chance; you’re doing them a disservice.

“Right now is the time to push. We’ll pull back and start working on their legs as we start shifting focusing on Georgia. But right now, it’s all about Clemson. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the deal.”

Practice notes: T.J. Green avoids torn ACL, Tigers getting iPads for film study

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON — Never before has Clemson freshman athlete T.J. Green loved hearing he has a knee sprain and bone bruise, as discovered by an MRI Wednesday.

“That is the best news I have had today,” Dabo Swinney said.  “We were fearful that he had suffered a season ending injury.”

The team disclosed Thursday Green avoided a torn ACL, which means he’ll miss extended time but not the entire season. Green has factored in to punt and kick return work, and could be used in a variety of ways once healthy.

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7 at 7: A way-too-early peek at the depth chart, plus more observations from Friday’s practice

Zac Brooks takes a handoff from Tajh Boyd during Clemson's first fall camp practice. The Tigers are wearing 'guardian caps' over their helmets whether there's contact drills or not, to help prevent concussion-like symptoms in August practices. (Rex Brown/ClemsonTigers.com)

Zac Brooks takes a handoff from Tajh Boyd during Clemson’s first fall camp practice. The Tigers are wearing ‘guardian caps’ over their helmets whether there’s contact drills or not, to help prevent concussion-like symptoms in August practices. (Rex Brown/ClemsonTigers.com)

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – This will be the first ‘7 at 7’ feature I’ve produced since my first day on the job.

That’s a two-month span. In the next two months, my hope is you can expect about, oh, 20 more or so. Then another 20 in the two months after that.

What I love about writing 7 at 7 – and in my experience, what readers have loved about reading it – is not just the catchy name, but the flexibility it provides to dish out notes on just about anything in a super-presentable fashion.

One day, you’ll see me empty the notebook from practice; the next, you’ll see me throw out a mish-mash of YouTube clips of John L. Smith’s greatest meltdowns caught on camera. (Don’t rule this out.)

In Saturday’s Post & Courier: Clemson seniors ‘cherish every moment’

So let’s get to it. Let’s have some fun.

1) For the love of all that is good and pure, take this for what it’s worth.

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