ACC notebook: Watkins fills new role

Sammy Watkins might as well forget his sophomore season. 

The gifted Clemson wide receiver didn’t duplicate his historic freshman campaign last fall, as a suspension stemming from a drug possession arrest and a leg injury tempered his season, which ended with 57 receptions for 708 yards and only three touchdowns. But 2013 is a new year and season for Watkins, and it means he’s playing a new position, too. 

Watkins has taken over as the boundary receiver, a role occupied by DeAndre Hopskins last season. Hopkins went from off the radar to a household name in the ACC, catching 82 passes for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns. Quite frankly, Hopkins was better as a receiver last season than Watkins was during his freshman year, which culminated with him being named the the first true freshman first-team All-American ever from the ACC. 

The difference in his new position from what he did before is a matter of matching the discipline and precision of running specific routes with his immense natural ability. In addition, Watkins will almost exclusively line up on the short side of the field, which should put him in plenty of one-on-one situations. 

Perhaps more important is that Watkins has apparently learned from his mistakes and is growing off the field. That can only help him between endzones.

“People talk about last year, but I think last year is going to prove to be a great experience for him, looking back on his career and helping him appreciate the opportunities that he has,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “His focus is outstanding, and he’s just really, really grown.

“Sammy has grown into being a very solid leader for this team. I don’t have any doubt he’ll do everything he needs to do to get himself ready to have a great season.”

Watkins grabbed 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 scores as a freshman. He also ran for 231 yards from scrimmage and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. 

Savage settling in at Pitt

One day when football is a thing of the past, Tom Savage will have a fascinating story to tell. At the water cooler, a kids’ ballgame, or a cocktail party, Savage will one day be able to say he played quarterback in the Big East, Pac-12 and ACC. That isn’t exactly a common tale.

Savage was freshman All-American signal caller at Rutgers in 2009 after throwing for 2,211 yards and 14 touchdowns. He passed for 521 yards the following season before suffering an injury and subsequently losing the starter’s role. He transferred to Arizona, but bolted when Rich Rodriguez and his spread offense moved to Tucson.

So Savage landed at Pitt, and with quarterback Tino Sunseri having graduated, the well-traveled soon-to-be 23-year-old is taking most of the snaps with the Panthers’ first-team offense in camp this spring. But his performances have been rather inconsistent. Yet, new Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst doesn’t appear all that concerned. 

“There’s good and bad,” Chryst said. “I think that’s OK right now. I love the approach that he has. He’s still throwing to some different guys, getting a feel for that, and as they’re learning, are they in the right spot? … He’s starting to get it. He’s making the right decision. I think that’s kind of the ebb and flow of spring ball.”

FSU about competition, skills

Florida State’s second scrimmage of spring practice on Monday focused a great deal on goal line and red zone situations. Of the 130 plays, 20 were strictly goal line plays. 

Toughness and competition were part of what Jimbo Fisher and his staff were going for. 

“Yeah, I guess more looking at individuals right now than I am scheme,” Fisher said. “I’m trying to find out some guys and challenge some guys from that standpoint. There’s a ton of scheme going on, just execution type things.”

The Seminoles will hold their spring game to close game this Saturday. So closing strong developing skills and giving players certain things to work on in the offseason is crucial. 

Of particular importance, the quarterback situation is shaping up. Fisher was once again pleased with Clint Trickett, who is the leading candidate to be E.J. Manuel’s replacement under center. 

“I thought Clint had a really good day,” Fisher said. “He made a great read on a play, but missed a throw when he had a chance.”