Football

Unselfish group competing in stacked Clemson receiver corps

Clemson wide receiver Deon Cain (8)
Clemson wide receiver Deon Cain (8) tdominick@thestate.com

As far as Deshaun Watson is concerned, his practice routine hasn’t changed.

The Clemson quarterback’s receivers line up, he gets his read and hits his target.

“I just find the open guy,” said Watson, the reigning ACC player of the year. “I just do my job and everyone else does their job.”

Finding the open guy likely won’t be an issue thanks to the talented receiver corps at Clemson.

No Tiger wide receiver signee offered a scholarship was rated less than a four-star prospect. That’s eight targets, and that doesn’t count 2015 breakout starter Hunter Renfrow.

From spring ball to fall camp, the competition has ratcheted up with Mike Williams a full-go, Deon Cain back from suspension, and the addition of summer enrollees Diondre Overton, T.J. Chase and Cornell Powell.

Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott sent a message early to the group – and its extended family at skill positions – and reinforced that in practice this week, repeating “every rep counts.”

“We had all of those skill guys stand up and I think we counted 31 skill guys in that room,” Scott said. “We held one ball and said, ‘Alright, we have one ball to go around.’”

In other offenses that might be a bigger issue, but not so much at one of nine Power 5 conference teams to top 4,000 passing yards last season.

“We just talked about, ‘What’s our goal?' Our goal is to win every game, whatever that takes,” said Scott. “There used to be a time at Clemson where maybe we had one or two play makers that were head and shoulders above everybody else … We’ve just kind of let the offense go and let the ball get spread around and I think our guys appreciate that.”

Competing in the boundary receiver role, Williams and Cain fill the void left by Charone Peake and beyond. Across the field, All-ACC honoree Artavis Scott returns, bringing along former five-star prospect Ray-Ray McCloud. In the slot, Renfrow and Trevion Thompson carry a combined 853 snaps gained last season.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Williams “just brings a presence” to practice. The veteran receiver knows there’s work ahead for his position, however.

“We’re a deep wide receiver corps,” Williams said. “We’ve got good talent in our wide receiver group, and we just have to go out and show it on the field though.”

While Williams was in a jersey during the spring, Cain donned the uniform this week for the first time since December. The early returns on his return are overwhelmingly positive.

“I pulled him aside after our first practice and I just complimented him because I could tell the way he practiced – that tells me what he’s been doing all summer long,” Scott said. “You can’t go out there and have a good first day or second day just by trying to turn it on when practice starts … He’s as locked in as he’s ever been.”

The freshmen trio was welcomed to the Division I level this week, where they’re trying to crack the stacked depth chart. Overton, standing 6-foot-5, is competing with Williams and Cain. Powell, who totaled 2,913 all-purpose yards last season at Rose (N.C.)High, is in the “field” position with Scott and McCloud. Chase, a 6-foot-2 target who weighed in at 164 pounds, is working in the slot.

While each rookie has plenty to work on, Scott said their performances have validated the recruiting process. With week one of camp almost in the books, he expects a united front in his room.

“It’s a very unselfish group, and a lot of that comes from the culture that coach Swinney has worked extremely hard to create of no entitlement,” Scott said. “I think all of our guys are focused and understand what our goals are.”

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