- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Clemson wide receiver Martavis Bryant, according to offensive coordinator Chad Morris, is “every bit as good of an athlete as Sammy” Watkins.
Germone Hopper? “He’s probably every bit as explosive a player as Sammy,” Morris said.
With only six scholarship receivers available following the season-ending injury to No. 2 wideout Charone Peake, Clemson is short on depth, but it’s certainly not lacking talent at the position. Adam Humphries will move into the starting lineup for Thursday night’s game at NC State, with Hopper as his backup, but it’s Bryant who is now staring down the expectations of filling the void left by Peake.
“We’re going to need him,” Morris said. “We’ve got to. We’ve got to have that. That’s got to be him. He’s got to be that guy. That position has got to be consistent. We’ve got to have consistency out of him.”
They didn’t get it in the season opener against Georgia.
For all of splash and dash that was the Clemson offense in the Tigers’ 38-35 upset of Georgia, an underwhelming performance by Bryant, who had four drops, didn’t go unnoticed. Expectations were much higher for Bryant heading into this season, especially after he was suspended for last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl and vowed a new sense of maturity. Focus isn’t the problem right now. Confidence and consistency are the only two things holding Bryant back from reaching his potential, according to Morris.
“He had as good a fall camp as any receiver we have,” Morris said. “He made some unbelievable catches, but just was thrust into a starting role against Georgia on a big stage and just didn’t have the game. He had four drops and just didn’t have what we wanted him to have. But what was really good was to see him coming out against South Carolina State and gain some confidence and have some big catches and make some plays with the ball in his hands. The biggest thing with him is just being able to play consistently, be the same guy every day. That’s the thing you like to see with him. He’s as talented a wide receiver as we’ve got. He’s the fastest guy on the team. He’s big, he provides mismatches. It’s just getting his confidence up to where he needs to play at.”
Against Georgia, Bryant didn’t have one catch. The following week, against South Carolina State, he had four catches for 87 yards -- more than Peake, who finished with three catches for 26 yards and a touchdown. Bryant said his confidence has grown since Week 1. He said his first start against Georgia was “very emotional,” and that he made a mistake of playing off his emotions.
“I calmed down,” he said. “I’ve just got to take it one day at a time and have fun with it. I was too worried about doing good the first game, that’s why I was dropping passes, but now I just go out and play more relaxed.”
At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, Bryant is one of the team’s top deep threats. He came into this season averaging 27.7 yards per reception. Last year, he led the nation with 30.5 yards per reception. Nobody within the program is questioning Bryant’s athletic ability -- they just need to see it on a more routine basis.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said he has spent extra time after practices working with the receivers, but that chemistry and communication haven’t been a problem.
“Tav’s going to be an important factor in the season,” Boyd said. “He’s going to make some unbelievable plays this year I believe. I have all the confidence in the world in his abilities.”
He might want to share some of it with Bryant.
1dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna