Clemson Football: 4 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistJuly 10, 2014

Clemson Football: 4 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices

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    Mackensie Alexander
    Mackensie Alexander247Sports

    Every year across college football, new stars are born. When upperclassmen bolt to the NFL, youngsters are ready to step in and make an impact. For the Clemson Tigers, who lost several talented players in the 2014 NFL draft, the time is now for a group of talented freshmen.

    While the Tigers were able to replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback with senior Cole Stoudt, other positions will experience an infusion of youth.

    Fall camp is just weeks away for Clemson. The season opener at Georgia is approximately seven weeks away. Which freshman is ready to impress coaches and push his way into the starting lineup?

    Here's a look at four freshmen who need a strong fall practice before the Tigers head to Athens on August 30.

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander

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    Mackensie Alexander
    Mackensie AlexanderRobert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    We've been talking about Mackensie Alexander for months. The redshirt freshman cornerback was supposed to play last season, but an injury in the summer led coaches to redshirt him.

    Alexander, arguably, had the best spring of any Clemson player.

    Coaches lavished praise on him after every practice. Not only were coaches amazed by Alexander's skills and athleticism, but also his ability to shake off negative plays. It was no surprise head coach Dabo Swinney had Alexander as the starter at one cornerback spot in his post-spring depth chart. 

    He will be a star, it's just a matter of time. However, with Georgia and Florida State on the schedule in the first month, he'll need to be ready. Getting out of fall practice injury-free would be a great start.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson

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    Deshaun Watson
    Deshaun Watson247Sports

    Cole Stoudt is the starting quarterback. Period.

    But the season opener against Georgia will provide a stiff test for Stoudt. Can he survive? The Bulldogs return eight starters on defense and are always tough to beat at home. If Stoudt struggles, don't be surprised to see true freshman Deshaun Watson.

    That's why it's imperative that Watson stay healthy and practice well. Not only is he one injury away from playing, but he could also be a couple of turnovers away. He just needs to show the coaches the college game isn't too fast for him.

    The shoulder injury Watson suffered this spring set him back a bit. It was unlikely he would've beat out Stoudt, at least initially, but the injury didn't help things. He certainly has the talent and pedigree to be the next great Clemson passer.

Linebacker Dorian O'Daniel

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    Dorian O'Daniel
    Dorian O'Daniel247Sports

    Clemson has its starting outside linebackers for 2014. None of those players, however, possess the ability of redshirt freshman Dorian O'Daniel.

    While O'Daniel currently isn't slated to start, he could make a major impact this fall. He has good size (6'2", 210), speed and can play a number of roles on the defense.

    O'Daniel can blitz, drop into coverage or attack the line of scrimmage. He's an aggressive player, and his versatility will be an asset to defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

    With Tony Steward's injury history, O'Daniel will always be a play away. O'Daniel needs to show Venables he's capable of extended playing time in fall practice and that he has a good knowledge of the defense.

Freshman Wide Receivers

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    True freshman Demarre Kitt
    True freshman Demarre Kitt247Sports

    No position on the roster lost as much as wide receiver. Gone are Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Adam Humphries returns at one spot, as does sophomore Mike Williams.

    But Clemson starts three receivers and has a trio of talented true freshmen ready to compete.

    Artavis Scott, Kyrin Priester and Demarre Kitt are all second on the depth chart at each receiver spot, respectively. All three players are fast, explosive and exciting after the catch.

    Can offensive coordinator Chad Morris trust any of these youngsters early in the season with running the correct routes at the proper depth? Wide receiver is a tough position to provide immediate relief because of the complexities of today's offenses. 

    Junior Charone Peake and sophomore Germone Hopper currently stand in the way of the three freshmen. Peake is coming off of ACL surgery but appears ready to go for fall practice. Hopper was sent home from spring practice to focus on his academics. If both players return as expected, it could cause any, or all, of the freshman receivers to redshirt. 

    If Peake or Hopper aren't available, suddenly fall practice becomes even more important for the talented freshman receivers.