NCF Nation: Germone Hopper

Dabo Swinney said before the season that a lot of people would be asking him about Clemson's new receiving corps by the end of the year. Consider the Tigers' pass-catchers ahead of schedule.

Gone are Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant from last season. So, too, are DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown from the year before. But the depth of this young group has been evident through five games, with three different players catching 15 or more passes, and six different players hauling in touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeMike Williams
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsMike Williams showed his explosiveness last Saturday in Clemson's win over NC State.
Clemson leads the ACC in passing, averaging 335.8 yards per game, and the unit figures to only grow as the schedule eases and the adjustment to bigger roles continues.

"Not surprised, because we had a couple of them here this spring, Demarre Kitt and Artavis (Scott) came in January, I think that really helped those guys and I'm proud of then," Swinney said. "They're doing a nice job for us. Some of our young tight ends continue to develop. I really like the fact that we've been able to involve our running backs in the passing game as well, and a young guy like Germone Hopper, who's not a freshman, he's a sophomore, been around here a couple years, I think he's been a huge addition as well, and it's really just him he's finally bought into the way we do things here at Clemson. It's really good to see these him reap those rewards from buying in and working hard and being committed to being a great player."

Hopper has been a big-play threat, catching eight balls for 233 yards and two scores. Mike Williams has led the group, with the sophomore hauling in 21 catches for 520 yards and four touchdowns. He is tied with seven other ACC players for the league lead in receiving scores, and within the conference he trails just Florida State's Rashad Greene (576) in receiving yards and Miami's Phillip Dorsett in yards per catch (31.3).

Williams said he had a goal this season of reaching 1,000 yards receiving, something that appears well within reach with at least seven games remaining. He celebrated his 20th birthday Saturday in a 41-0 win over NC State by hauling in six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in the game's first six minutes.

"I felt good," said Williams, who said he told quarterback Deshaun Watson before the game that he wanted two scores as a gift. "I felt like I played one of my best games here at Clemson on my birthday, so that was all pretty good."

Williams said Watson, the true freshman signal-caller, has been instrumental in the receivers' growth, from pulling players aside in practice to taking control in offseason 7-on-7 work.

"That's where the chemistry's developed," Swinney said, "the nuances of your passing game, and those guys spending that extra time, getting just reps, because ultimately it's about reps and just the chemistry that comes from getting those reps together is critical."

Scott is second on the Tigers in receptions (18), yards (305) and receiving touchdowns (three). He arrived to campus this past January with Watson, and the two are roommates. But the freshman admitted he did not envision this much success this soon for an offense facing so much personnel turnover, though it helped having eventual NFL receivers offer him advice on his visit and again around draft time.

"I talked to Sammy and Martavis," Scott said of last year's go-to threats. "They told me when you come in here to be ready, because you'll get an opportunity and when it comes take full advantage. Do the things you know you can do. Don't overthink it."

Clemson offense must rebuild

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Clemson has been through this before, losing top-tier talent to the NFL draft.

But when top receiver DeAndre Hopkins decided to turn pro after last season ended, everybody figured the Tigers would be just fine with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins returning.

The twin losses of Watkins and Martavis Bryant to the NFL draft this year leave behind many more questions. Not only are the Tigers losing their top two receivers, they also are losing Boyd, their record-setting quarterback over the last three years.

That is a trifecta that could inevitably label 2014 a rebuilding year.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesWithout Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, who will make Dabo Swinney smile in 2014?
Watkins' decision to leave was a no-brainer. The talented junior proved in the Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State that he will be a top 10 draft pick. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper believes Watkins could go as high as No. 2 when the draft rolls around in May.

There was not much more for him to accomplish at Clemson, either. Watkins tied Hopkins for career touchdown receptions (27), holds the single-season receptions (101) and career receptions marks (240) and single-season record for receiving yards (1,464). He would have been foolish to return.

Bryant's decision is another matter entirely. There is little doubt he could have improved his draft stock had he returned to school for another year, but Bryant cited his family as the reason he decided to leave. Bryant ended the season with 42 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns, but he has been mostly inconsistent for the bulk of his career and has only one year as a starter.

His size (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) makes him an intriguing prospect, but he has work ahead of him to get noticed. ESPN.com does not even have Bryant rated on its receivers evaluation page.

Moving forward, Clemson should have plenty of position battles headed into the spring. Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson are all in the mix to replace Boyd. Without Watkins and Bryant, Clemson will rely on some combination of veteran Adam Humphries, Charone Peake, Mike Williams, Germone Hopper and T.J. Green.

Williams played as a freshman this season and has the same size as the departing Bryan. He showed flashes throughout the course of the season. Green also shows promise. Peake is coming off an ACL injury and should be healthy for the start of the season. Humphries has been dependable and will be expected to do more.

The player who needs to step up most has to be Hopper, rated one of the top receiver prospects in the 2012 class. He has not quite lived up to his potential yet, and 2014 provides him an opportunity to become a go-to receiver. Clemson coaches have waited on the light to go on for him, and that probably is the case again now more than ever.

What Clemson has moving forward is talent, but little in the way of game experience. The key to replacing the three big-name skill players who have departed is to grow these players up in a hurry. The opener at Georgia will be here in a blink.
You can't win 'em all.

Clemson won big on Wednesday when quarterback Tajh Boyd announced he would return for his fifth and final season instead of entering the NFL draft.

The Tigers weren’t so lucky on Thursday.

Receiver DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins, Clemson’s leading receiver and one of the best in the country, announced on Twitter that he will leave school early and enter the NFL draft. Here’s the thing, though -- Clemson’s offense is so loaded with talent that the Tigers should still be just fine without Hopkins, and this announcement should hardly come as a surprise. Even without their record-setting wideout, Clemson still returns players who caught 161 passes for 1,719 yards in 2012.

Hopkins will be missed, but Boyd is still going to have plenty of options.

Despite his inconsistent, injury-plagued season that also included a suspension, Sammy Watkins was second on the team with 57 catches for 708 yards and three touchdowns. He was overshadowed by Hopkins this past fall -- and deservedly so -- but this will give Watkins a chance to remind college football fans what made him so special as a true freshman two years ago. Clemson also returns its No. 3 receiver, Adam Humphries, who had 41 receptions last year. And don’t forget about Charone Peake (25 catches), Martavis Bryant (10 receptions), and Germone Hopper, a talented option who redshirted this past year as a true freshman. Hopper was rated the No. 4 player in North Carolina by ESPN.com and the No. 13 receiver in his recruiting class.

Hopkins was projected to be drafted somewhere between late in the first round to mid-second round. His name is all over the record books. There’s not much more he can do at Clemson besides win a national title and risk injury. He has left his mark.

He has also left plenty of talented teammates behind to try and pick up where he left off.

Watkins to miss BC game with virus

September, 27, 2012
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Clemson All-America wide receiver Sammy Watkins will not make the trip to Boston College because of an abdominal virus, the school announced Thursday. Second-team offensive guard Kalon Davis pulled a hamstring on Thursday and also will miss the trip. It was announced earlier in the week that wide receiver Martavis Bryant would not travel due to a groin injury.

“Sammy has been practicing, but on Tuesday and Wednesday took himself out late in the practice because he was not feeling well,” said coach Dabo Swinney, according to the school's release. “Today he was worse and after going to the doctor it was determined that he needed to stay here this weekend.

“With Sammy and Martavis out of the lineup we will bring Germone Hopper (freshman wide receiver who has not played this year) with us on the trip. We will only use him in case of an emergency. It is still our intention to redshirt him.”

When Watkins was suspended for the first two games of the season, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries combined for 19 receptions.
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.

[+] EnlargeCharone Peake
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesCharone Peake will start Saturday's game for the suspended Sammy Watkins.
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."

True freshmen to watch in ACC

August, 23, 2012
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Now that we are closing in on the start of the season, we have a much better idea of how many true freshmen could make an impact in the ACC this season based on preseason practice time and early depth charts.

Maryland could end up playing the most, and having players who make the biggest impact. You have quarterback Perry Hills starting in place of the injured C.J. Brown. Highly touted athlete Stefon Diggs has had an outstanding preseason camp. Don't forget about running backs Albert Reid and Wes Brown, who also have looked really good.

Here are a few young players to keep an eye on at each school.

Boston College: Justin Simmons, DB. Defensive back is an area where Boston College needs help, especially after the loss of Al Louis-Jean, who's out six to eight weeks with a foot injury. Simmons already has made his presence felt. In a scrimmage last weekend, he had two interceptions. Also watch for defensive back Bryce Jones and linebacker Steven Daniels.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
John Albright / Icon SMI The versatile Travis Blanks may line up at a number of positions on defense for the Tigers.
Clemson: Travis Blanks, DB. One of the top defensive backs in the country out of high school, Blanks enrolled early and had an impressive spring showing. He has followed that up with a great preseason, and will line up in a variety of positions -- nickelback, cornerback and some linebacker as well. On offense, watch for Germone Hopper, who has had some pretty explosive plays this fall.

Duke: Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell, RBs; Ross Martin, PK. Duncan and Powell have turned heads during the preseason, and coach David Cutcliffe said he would feel comfortable using both players in the opener against FIU. Martin is sure to get plenty of game experience as the starting kicker this year. Others to watch: receiver Max McCaffrey, tight end Erich Schneider and safety Dwayne Norman, who had an interception return for a touchdown in one scrimmage.

Florida State: Ronald Darby, CB. Do not be surprised if Darby ends up starting in the spot vacated by Greg Reid. Darby and Nick Waisome are competing for the starting job. Coaches like both players, but there is something special about Darby. Said coach Jimbo Fisher: Darby is "going to be a very, very good one." Also watch for defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and tight end Christo Kourtzidis.

Georgia Tech: Anthony Autry and Micheal Summers, WR. Georgia Tech only has four other scholarship wide receivers, so that increases the chances for Autry and Summers to play this season. Autry seems to have a slight edge over Summers. Others to watch: defensive back D.J. White.

Maryland: In addition to Hills, Diggs, Brown and Reid, several others could make an impact this year. Punter Brad Craddock is competing for the starting position with redshirt freshman Nathan Renfro; and cornerback Sean Davis could be starting on opening day because he has done well, and there are some injuries on defense.

Miami: Ereck Flowers, OL. Flowers is listed as a starter right now at right tackle, helped in part because of Seantrel Henderson's absence. Offensive line coach Art Kehoe has been extremely impressed. Others to watch: defensive back Tracy Howard and running back Duke Johnson. Howard is listed on the two-deep behind Ladarius Gunter but has drawn raves so far and so has Johnson, who should also return kickoffs this year. Deon Bush is in the mix for a starting safety spot.

North Carolina: Quinshad Davis, WR. Davis missed some early practice time because of a medical issue but has returned in the last week and has a big chance to make some noise. The Tar Heels are lacking depth at this position, and the way Larry Fedora likes to spread the ball around, he will take as many good receivers as he can.

NC State: Charlie Hegedus, WR. Receiver is a position of need for the Wolfpack, and Hegedus has seen more reps during fall camp with the injury to Bryan Underwood. One player NC State hopes you do not see this year is backup quarterback Manny Stocker, a true freshman behind veteran Mike Glennon.

Virginia: Maurice Canady, CB. Coaches are extremely high on Canady, who is in the mix to earn a starting spot in a secondary that has to be rebuilt this year. He has been working with the first team recently. Others to watch: Michael Moore at outside linebacker, and Eli Harold at defensive end.

Virginia Tech: J.C. Coleman, RB; Donaldven Manning, DB. Both players enrolled in January and are virtual locks to play this season. Coleman has separated himself from another true freshman, Trey Edmunds, despite a hand injury. He has had an outstanding fall camp. Manning has had to deal with a hamstring injury, but his early enrollment works in his favor.

Wake Forest: The Deacs rarely play true freshmen. But if there is one player who has a shot this year, it is defensive end Tylor Harris, who has stood out this fall for his pass-rushing ability -- something Wake Forest needs help improving this year.

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