ACC: Demarre Kitt
Clemson has never been shy about playing true freshmen -- most especially at receiver.
The Tigers have been quite successful using their young guys at this spot since Dabo Swinney took over as full-time head coach in 2009. DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins set school freshman receiving marks in their debut seasons, and just last season, Artavis Scott led the team in receptions (76) and touchdown catches (8).
Though Clemson returns four of its top five receivers in 2015, do not be surprised if Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud III make an instant impact. Cain, an ESPN 300 prospect, was the nation's No. 2 receiver in the Class of 2015; McCloud, another ESPN 300 recruit, was the No. 12-rated athlete. Another four-star receiver, Shadell Bell, is enrolled in school and will participate in spring practice.
"We’re seeing some of these top elite receivers and defensive backs coming in and they’re college-ready, where maybe six, seven years ago you didn’t see that quite as much," said Jeff Scott, who has served as Clemson's receivers coach and now adds co-offensive coordinator to his job duties. "We’ve had a lot of success with those guys coming in and playing early. That reputation is one reason we have the opportunity to sign a lot of talented guys. Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud are as good as any receivers we’ve signed here at Clemson. They’ve got big shoes to fill, but they’re competitors, very talented guys.
"The biggest challenge will be learning the offense and how we do things. Once they learn that, our job is to get the ball in their hands, let them go play and do what they do. We feel like at this level, we have the opportunity to sign guys that are talented enough to come in and make an impact as freshmen. We see an opportunity this year with those guys."
Watkins and Hopkins ended up becoming first-round NFL picks. Martavis Bryant, who also played as a true freshman with Watkins in 2011, was a fourth-round pick. Clemson is clearly doing a good job not only bringing in talented players, but also then maximizing their potential. Player development is crucial to any team's success.
The way the players have been developed at this spot -- knowing how integral they are to the success of the high-powered Clemson offense -- shows not only in the stats they put up but in their performance at the next level.
Here is a look at true freshmen receivers who have played at Clemson since 2009:
Artavis Scott: 76 catches, 965 yards, eight TDs. Led team in receptions and receiving touchdowns.
Demarre Kitt: Five catches, 47 yards.
Mike Williams: 20 catches, 316 yards, six TDs.
Sammy Watkins: 82 catches, 1,219 yards, 12 TDs. All-purpose: 2,288 yards and 13 total TDs. Led team in all categories. ACC Rookie of the Year, AP All-American.
Martavis Bryant: 10 catches, 305 yards, four TDs.
Adam Humphries: 15 catches, 130 yards.
Charone Peake: Four catches, 71 yards.
DeAndre Hopkins: 52 catches, 637 yards, four TDs. Led team in all categories.
Though it took Priester a year to arrive at Clemson, the Tigers had high hopes for him when he enrolled in January. The plan was for Priester, Artavis Scott and Demarre Kitt to play as true freshmen. Priester did get into the Georgia game last week, playing on special teams. But in his comments to reporters, Swinney said Priester had "no respect for authority. He's a good kid, just lost his way."
Priester tweeted out:
Walk boldly through the doors God opens for you, and don't become discouraged when He closes one.— Kyrin Priester (@KyPriester) September 3, 2014
The move does not necessarily impact the receiver group in the short-term. Priester had fallen to third on the depth chart behind Charone Peake and Germone Hopper. Scott and Kitt were already ahead of him. (Kitt finished second on the team in receiving against Georgia with 41 yards on two receptions). But there's little doubt Clemson is losing a talented player in the long term, especially since receiver is an area the Tigers loaded up on last February to help replenish their ranks.
Priester is now the third scholarship player since April to leave the Tigers. Quarterback Chad Kelly was dismissed after the spring game; offensive lineman Shaq Anthony decided to transfer before the season began.
Let's take a whirl around the rest of the ACC:
- Brian Fremeau decided to see how Florida State would fare with a schedule from the other Power 5 conferences. Noles fans are not going to like the results.
- Georgia Tech is trying to eliminate its fumbling problem.
- Louisville safety James Sample emerged as a playmaker Monday night.
- Some brutal honestly from Miami's offensive linemen following a dismal performance in Louisville.
- Pitt has a lot of big bodies on the offensive line.
- North Carolina's suspended players are ready to return this week.
- NC State running back Shadrach Thornton reversed course to find happiness.
- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer is "disappointed but not discouraged" after Terrel Hunt's punch.
- Virginia Tech is pumping noise into practice to prepare for Ohio Stadium.
Previous installments of this series can be found here.
Up today: Wide receivers
Best of the best: Louisville
The move to the ACC figures to be one littered with transitional speed bumps, but coach Bobby Petrino does enter the league with an unmatched group of receivers. Senior DeVante Parker is arguably the conference’s top receiver and could be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft. He hauled in 55 passes in 2013, but with leading receiver Damian Copeland bypassing sixth year of eligibility, Parker’s numbers figure to increase. He could break the 1,000-yard barrier in 2014. The Cardinals return four of their top five leading receivers from last season when factoring in tight end Gerald Christian. Eli Rogers was effective as the No. 3 receiver last season, and at 5-foot-10, he provides an ideal complement to the 6-3 Parker.
The Hurricanes have one of the conference’s emerging stars at any position in sophomore Stacy Coley. As a freshman, Coley caught seven touchdown passes, which led Miami. The 6-1, 185-pound receiver was one of Miami’s prized recruits from the 2013 class, as he was the fourth-ranked receiver in the country. Similar to Louisville, the Hurricanes lose their leading receiver from a season ago but return five of their top six from 2013. Clive Walford is one of the better tight ends, and the Hurricanes are hoping Beau Sandland lives up to his junior-college billing. In his first season, Sandland rarely made an impact, but he was ranked 15th nationally among juco recruits in 2013.
Sleeper: North Carolina
Marquise Williams helped turn around the Tar Heels’ season in 2013 and will likely be the starter entering the season, but he no longer has the luxury of throwing it up to tight end Eric Ebron, a top-10 pick in May’s NFL draft. However, the Heels do return several talented playmakers who could cause headaches for conference defensive coordinators. Junior Quinshad Davis is an underrated receiver, tallying 48 catches for 730 yards last season. He also had a team-high 10 touchdowns. Behind Davis is Ryan Switzer, who mostly made a name for himself as a returner. But it’s important to note that Switzer hauled in 32 passes. Bug Howard and T.J. Thorpe also return, which means the Heels bring back four of their top five receivers.
Problem for a contender: Clemson
There will be no replacing a talent like Sammy Watkins no matter how well the Tigers have recruited the position. Watkins was considered the best player in the draft by some teams and was brilliant in the Orange Bowl. Clemson is also breaking in a new quarterback, which means it could take some time for the passing game to develop the type of consistency it will need to break through a defensive secondary of Florida State’s caliber. Second-leading receiver Martavis Bryant is also off to the NFL. As mentioned earlier, however, the Tigers have recruited extremely well at the position and it would not be a total shock if by season’s end this turned into one of the conference’s best groups. Charone Peake was a five-star recruit in 2011, but last fall he tore a knee ligament after two games. Germone Hopper, Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester, Artavis Scott, Trevion Thompson and Mike Williams were all blue-chip recruits, too.
- Let's start with some of the offensive positions with the biggest question marks. With Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant gone, Clemson now has Mike Williams and Charone Peake penciled in as starters, alongside veteran Adam Humphries. Early enrollee freshmen Demarre Kitt, Artavis Scott and Kyrin Priester are all listed on the two-deep.
- At running back, D.J. Howard is listed as the starter, but expect Zac Brooks, C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman all to get extended playing time this season. The Tigers could feature much more of a running back-by-committee approach.
- Right tackle is the only offensive position without a clear-cut starter listed. Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are competing for that starting job.
- As expected, Cole Stoudt is listed as the starting quarterback. Freshman Deshaun Watson is the backup.
- On defense, it's no surprise to see two young players atop the cornerback spot. Redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander had a terrific spring. He is listed as a starter, along with Cordrea Tankersley. Seniors Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins are listed as the backups. Alexander is the only freshman starter on offense or defense.
- The biggest holes to fill are at linebacker, where Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey are gone. Tony Steward is listed ahead of Ben Boulware for the weakside spot Shuey played, while T.J. Burrell, Travis Blanks, Korrin Wiggins and Dorian O'Daniel are listed at strongside/nickel back.
- Tavaris Barnes is pushing Corey Crawford for a starting defensive end spot. They are listed with "or" next to their names. The tackle spot opposite Grady Jarrett also remains unsettled, with a three-way competition ongoing among Josh Watson, DeShawn Williams and D.J. Reader. No matter who enters the starting lineup, defensive line is the most experienced position on the entire team. All nine players on the two-deep are lettermen who have played at least 200 snaps in their careers, playing in a combined 266 games with 91 starts.
1. Cole Stoudt is the starting QB. What began as an intriguing three-way competition to replace record-setter Tajh Boyd was whittled down to Stoudt after Chad Kelly was dismissed from the team following the Tigers’ spring game. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson had a very impressive spring, but he ended practice with a minor collarbone injury.
2. Clemson’s defensive line is as good as advertised. Granted it was only two-hand touch on the quarterback, but the defense still had 14 sacks and 11 of them were by the front four in the Tigers’ spring game. There’s a rotation of 10 players for those four positions, giving Clemson one of the deepest lines in the ACC if not the country.
3. Safety is the right fit for T.J. Green. Green was recruited to Clemson as a safety, but he switched to wide receiver last year where he played sparingly, mostly on special teams, as a true freshman. This spring, the staff moved him back to his natural position and he flourished, leading the Orange team with eight tackles in the spring game.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Who will replace Sammy Watkins? It’s still one of the biggest questions in the ACC as Clemson has lots of depth, but none of the players separated themselves this spring as the go-to receiver. Adam Humphries, Germone Hopper, Charone Peake and Mike Williams are the most experienced options, but the staff is also very excited about newcomers Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott.
2. Who will be Clemson’s go-to running back? Much like the receivers, this was a very balanced group, as evidenced by the spring game stats. D.J. Howard (59 yards), Wayne Gallman (61 yards), Kurt Fleming (55 yards) and Zac Brooks (50 yards) had fairly even performances. Brooks is the leading returning rusher after gaining 246 yards on 48 carries last season, but it’s anyone’s game this summer.
3. Who will be starting right tackle? It was a concern for Dabo Swinney entering the spring and remains one heading into the summer. Isaiah Battle will be starting left tackle, but right tackle is up for grabs. It’s possible Swinney could move Kalon Davis, who started seven games at guard last year. Shaq Anthony or one of the younger players might also earn the job.
One way-too-early prediction
Clemson will lose its sixth straight game to rival South Carolina. Clemson will have the edge on defense, but if the Tigers couldn’t beat South Carolina with an all-star cast that included Watkins and Boyd, then it’s going to take more than defensive end Vic Beasley to beat the Gamecocks without them.
For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.
Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!
When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN
Where: Death Valley
One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).
When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium
One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.
When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.
When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)
Where: Sun Life Stadium
One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.
When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)
Where: Kenan Stadium
One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.com and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.
When: 1 p.m. on Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium
One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.
When: 1 p.m. on Saturday
Where: Scott Stadium
One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.
PITT (No spring game)
When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”
Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex
One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.
Watson, Priester, Kitt and Scott are already enrolled and will participate in spring practice, so that gives them an extra opportunity to earn playing time and perhaps a starting job. Not only does Clemson have to replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback, starting receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant are gone, along with 1,000-yard rusher Roderick McDowell. That is a lot of production that has to be replaced in a short period of time.
Morris had plenty to say about each position group during a signing day show on the Clemson Web Site last week. Here is a little bit of insight, with a month to go before spring practice opens.
On the receivers: Morris touched on the veterans returning, noting that Charone Peake will not participate in full-contact drills while continuing to rehab a knee injury. The hope is for Peake to be full-go when fall practice opens in August. Germone Hopper will be expected to take on a much bigger role. "It's time for him to separate himself." As for top returning receiver Adam Humphries, "We expect Adam to be a guy we can move all over the field and be that guy we're really dependent on."
Priester will be expected to back up Mike Williams initially and challenge at the position Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins played. Morris described Kitt and Scott as "dynamic" and said they are both going to be battling to play. "The great thing about this profession, a fresh start's always a year away. To watch the battle at the receiver position is going to be a lot of fun, like quarterback."
On the quarterbacks: Morris described Watson as a "game changer." He will compete with veteran backup Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly for the starting job. "We have a great battle ahead of us this spring. ... That's why they call it coaching. We'll see how it goes, may the best man win."
On the running backs: Despite losing McDowell, Morris says Clemson will have the best depth at the position since he arrived. Zac Brooks is healthy and the Tigers are expecting big contributions from him, along with D.J. Howard. They also anticipate the debut of two redshirt freshmen: Tyshon Dye, iffy for spring with various injuries, and Wayne Gallman. Morris said Gallman is "probably as dynamic and electric a back as I've seen. He can turn speed to power so fast. There's a lot of great things going on with our backs."
Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.
The best head coaches are often called the closer when it comes to sealing the deal with recruits. Whether on a visit or a trip to a prospect’s home, the head coach is called upon to secure the signature.
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Here are Class of 2014 prospects in the ACC who could be the next household name on your favorite team.
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Strongest class: Clemson
The Tigers just don’t have the No. 1 quarterback in the conference but the top quarterback in the entire country. Clemson has an argument for the best QB class in the nation with Deshaun Watson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville) in the fold. Heisman candidate Tajh Boyd will be gone after this season, so Watson could even come in and make a major impact as a freshman in 2014. Watson, who has been committed for more than a year, has also helped the Tigers reel in the conference’s strongest class at another position.
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In this episode of the ACC Official Visit, we talk a potential QB controversy for the Miami Hurricanes, a strong start for the Louisville Cardinals and wide receiver Demarre Kitt sets a date. Will an ACC team be his final destination?