When it comes to wide receiver play at Clemson, the bar is set extremely high.
There is a standard represented by some of the past greats that include DeAndre “Nook” Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, and Hunter Renfrow, just to name a few. That standard earned the program the nickname “Wide Receiver U,” as Clemson consistently pumped one receiver after another into the NFL.
Many felt the standard wasn’t met in 2021 as the wide receiver room was ravaged by injuries and plagued by inconsistency. Joseph Ngata, EJ Williams, Brannon Spector, Will Taylor and Troy Stellato have all missed significant time, and freshman Adam Randall is out recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the spring.
That was last year, though, and as the Tigers prepare to open fall camp, the group is as healthy as it’s been in quite some time, and wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham is determined to see his receivers meet that standard this season.
“I’m hungry. Our guys are hungry to show what we want and live up to that standard at Clemson and what we’ve done all these years,” Grisham said. “You’ll see it this year, there’s no doubt in my mind.”
Last season was tough for everyone involved when it comes to the wide receiver room, and having a head coach in Dabo Swinney, once a wide receivers coach himself, was extremely helpful for a group looking for a bounce-back season.
“Yeah, it’s good he’s around,” Grisham said. “We had some private conversations. After the season he even talked to my wife and encouraged her. Like if Tyler can survive this, he can survive anything.”
For many of Clemson’s receivers, it’s never been a matter of talent, but availability, and no one has battled injuries more than Ngata. However, the senior is now in perhaps the best shape of his career and appears to be on track, both physically and mentally, for a successful season.
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Henry loves the standard that Clemson has built
The Clemson Tigers’ magical playoff streak ended at six after the 2021 season, but just because they didn’t make the playoffs doesn’t mean the season was a loss.
“(Ngata) had a phenomenal winter and he kept that going throughout the spring,” Grisham. “I’m hearing great things about him this summer, especially his leadership and his ability to show up day in and day out and compete and do it at 100 percent, full speed.”
Another player the Tigers need healthy is AJ Williams. After dealing with multiple injuries a season ago, the junior is expected to secure one of the starting spots in 2022.
“EJ is a starter for us,” Grisham said. “We expect him to be able to help us as a starter. His mindset has to be that he has to help us win games.”
A season ago, however, there were some bright spots, including the play of Bo Collins. Grisham is confident the sophomore will take the next step in his development, which in turn will allow the coaches to use him in a variety of ways.
“I think just dominance,” Grisham said of what’s next for Collins. “As a guy that we can put on the field, on the edge, and if we need him in the slot, we can put him there. He will play anywhere.”
“I think for him it holds all that information, but it’s also definitely a one-on-one guy. As I see one on one, I give him a chance more times than not. The same with Ngata. We need guys who will win that 50-50. I think pure dominance is needed this season.”
Antonio Williams has also been highly regarded since arriving in college this summer. While not an early adopter, Williams is drawing attention and may be able to make an impact in his first year with the program.
“Guys are in awe of him, both offensively and defensively,” Grisham said. “When your guys on defense talk about a receiver, they don’t want to praise it a lot, those DBs, so anytime you can figure that out, especially for a freshman, that’s pretty cool. He knew we needed someone like him in our offense after losing Amari a few seasons ago. He’s done extremely well from what I’ve heard this summer.”
The Tigers, who went 10-3 in 2021 and finished 14th in the latest Associated Press poll, are the fourth team on FanDuel Sportsbook’s list to win it all in 2022.
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