2013 Clemson spring football primer: Dates, players and more to know

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers head into spring practice in good shape -- they won 11 games last year, and quarterback Tajh Boyd is back for another season. Will they be able to get back to the ACC championship game in 2013?

Clemson is coming off another double-digit-win season, which is starting to seem like something that should be expected from Dabo Swinney's program each year. Swinney and his staff have put together consistently strong recruiting classes, and that has paid dividends on the field. Swinney was able to deliver an ACC championship in 2011, though the Tigers fell short in 2012 thanks to their loss to Florida State.

Both Clemson and FSU are easily out-pacing their Atlantic Division rivals on the recruiting trail, and it's beginning to feel like it'll be a two-horse race for the division crown for the foreseeable future. The Tigers return quarterback Tajh Boyd while Florida State must replace E.J. Manuel, and this year Clemson hosts FSU, so the opportunity is there for the Tigers to reclaim the top spot in the division.

Clemson's offense finished among the nation's best in several categories last season, but defense was a different story. The Tigers ranked just 63rd in total defense and gave up 49 points to Florida State in September. Some improvement on this side of the ball would go a long way toward getting the team back into the ACC championship game, as the offense figures to be fine behind Boyd's leadership.

The Tigers have a chance to make an early statement in 2013, as they open their season with the Georgia Bulldogs. UGA is coming off an SEC title game appearance, and a win for Clemson would help in the polls and also give the ACC a boost it could really use.

Spring practice start date: March 6.

Spring game date, location: April 20 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC.

Approximate returning starters: Based on the depth chart for their bowl game, the Tigers return six players on the offensive side, including Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. They also bring back six players on the defensive side, including three members of their defensive line.

Additionally, placekicker Chandler Catanzaro, who made 18 of 19 field goals in 2012, will be back for his senior season.

Biggest addition: Clemson added several highly-touted recruits, but the best might be defensive back MacKensie Alexander, who is considered one of the top 50 overall prospects in the class of 2013. Alexander could provide immediate help for a pass defense that struggled at times in 2012, but he won't be enrolled in spring ball.

Biggest loss: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins declared for the 2013 NFL Draft and will skip his senior season. Hopkins had a huge 2012 season for the Tigers, leading the team with 82 receptions for 1,405 yards and 18 scores. He led the ACC in receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns, and there was only one other player in the league with double-digit touchdown receptions. The good news for the Tigers is that Sammy Watkins is back for another season, and he's certainly capable of having a big year of his own.

The Tigers also must replace running back Andre Ellington, who piled up more than 1,000 yards on the ground last season.

New players? Four members of Clemson's 2013 recruiting class enrolled for the spring semester to get a jump start on their careers: defensive back Jadar Johnson, defensive end Shaq Lawson, tight end Jordan Leggett and defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko. The rest of the class will join the program in time for the start of August practices.

Also, former Oklahoma linebacker Kellen Jones is eligible to play after following defensive coordinator Brent Venables to Clemson. He was a four-star out of high school and will compete for a starting job.

Lawson is the most highly-regarded player among the early enrollees, and he'll get a chance to show the Clemson staff that he's ready to contribute immediately. The fact that he's able to participate in spring practices can only help him in this regard.

New coaches? Clemson added Mike Reed as its new defensive backs coach. Reed had spent the previous six seasons in that same position at N.C. State, but he lost his job there when Tom O'Brien was fired. Reed's addition may have been a factor in luring Kyrin Priester and Marcus Edmond -- two former NCSU commitments -- to Clemson late in the recruiting process.

New schemes? Offensive coordinator Chad Morris' name came up in some head coaching searches during the offseason, but he didn't end up leaving Clemson. And with both Boyd and Watkins back, not a lot figures to be different about the way the Tigers run their offense. Clemson finished 2012 ranked among the nation's top 10 in total offense and scoring.

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More in College Football:

Anatomy of a terrible Les Miles rumor

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All in, at last: SB Nation inside Gus Malzahn's Auburn

Why Big Ten coaches should listen to the hive mind before hiring

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