Of all the questions surrounding Clemson headed into the season opener against Auburn, depth at receiver is not one of them.
Yet, we still have no idea how much the offense will feel the loss of star receiver Sammy Watkins, who is suspended for two games because of his offseason arrest. Coach Dabo Swinney says the team will not do much to change its plan with Watkins out for Saturday's important nonconference game.
Sophomore Charone Peake will start for Watkins, alongside established starter DeAndre Hopkins (952 yards last season) and Jaron Brown. The Tigers also expect big contributions from reserve players like Adam Humphries, Martavis Bryant and Matt Porter.
"Collectively as a group we’ve challenged those guys," Swinney said. "They all have to step it up. I don't think one guy replaces Sammy Watkins, but as a group they certainly are capable of doing that."
Peake and Humphries have been asked to line up in various spots during preseason camp to help make up for Watkins being out. That means practicing where Watkins and Hopkins usually play.
"It's not just me, but all the receivers are trying to broaden the knowledge of the offense and what we do out there," Humphries said in a recent phone interview. "I started out as a freshman behind Sammy, but they have been throwing me in the slot. Everyone is moving around. It has been somewhat of an adjustment, but I’m enjoying it. I feel like I’m a guy who can be moved around a good bit."
Peake has shown a great deal more maturity this season than last, when he had four receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. Both Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have noticed a more confident Peake, who is the fastest player on the team behind Watkins.
"It did not come as easy to him last year, the transition from high school to college as far as learning the system and the speed of the game but he's a very talented player," Swinney said. "You could see his confidence growing this spring. He had a great summer and it's carried right into fall camp. He seems comfortable now. I feel he’s going to have a great year for us. He and Adam Humphries fit that same category."
For his part, Peake says he feels like he is playing like he was in high school and has been doing an excellent job making players miss during preseason camp.
"I don't think as much when I play," Peake said in a phone interview. "I'm used to what I’m doing. Last year, things were going too fast for me, but this year I feel more comfortable when I’m in there."
Given the way Clemson wants to speed up its offensive attack this year, it is going to be imperative for every receiver to really catch on to what the Tigers want to do. Having more experienced players in the receiving group will help that, with Humphries, Peake and eventually Watkins going into their sophomore seasons.
That could also allow Clemson to redshirt highly touted freshman receiver Germone Hopper. Swinney does not want to play him unless he absolutely has to.
How the core receiving group does at the outset could go a long way toward determining that. But most everybody in the Clemson camp seems pretty confident the Tigers will survive just fine with their star playmaker sitting at home.
"Without Sammy, we’re going to see a lot more plays and a lot more balls, and we’re going to prove it’s not just Sammy we have, but we have a lot of other playmakers as well," Humphries said."