Clemson begins its ACC title defense on Friday as it opens preseason practice. The Tigers head into 2012 with some question marks, but they do return plenty of offensive firepower. Here’s a look at Clemson as they begin preseason camp:

It all starts: Clemson begins practice on Friday, Aug. 3. Fans can see the team on Sunday, Aug. 19 for "Fan Appreciation Day."

Three questions to answer in camp:

  1. Will wide receiver Sammy Watkins be available in the team’s opener against Auburn? Watkins was arrested on two misdemeanor drug charges in May. Coach Dabo Swinney has said that Watkins will miss time, but he has not specified what the punishment will be and when Watkins will serve that punishment. Swinney said at the ACC Kickoff that he will make a determination on Watkins’ punishment shortly after camp begins. Will Swinney elect to sit Watkins against Auburn? Or will Watkins serve the punishment against Ball State and/or Furman in weeks two and three?
  2. How will the defense respond to the scheme of new defensive coordinator Brent Venables? Venables arrives at Clemson after spending the last 13 seasons at Oklahoma. He is charged with the task of improving a defense that finished No. 71 nationally in total defense in 2011 and gave up 70 points in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia. The players said in the spring that this 4-3 scheme is easier to grasp than former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s. Venables has talent to work with, but it is a lot of young talent. If the players grasp the system and the defense makes a significant leap, Clemson could be dangerous.
  3. Will the offense build off last year, despite having to replace four starting offensive linemen? The Tigers return their leading rusher in running back Andre Ellington, top two receivers in Watkins and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and first team all-conference quarterback Tajh Boyd. However, none of that matters if the offensive line doesn’t do its job. Preseason All-ACC selection Dalton Freeman is the lone returning starter, and he is one of the best centers in the country. Left tackle Brandon Thomas, left guard Kalon Davis, right tackle Gifford Timothy, and right guard Tyler Shatley (who played defense last year) have to play well for Clemson to have the kind of success it wants in 2012.

Player who needs to step up: Defensive end Malliciah Goodman had 59 tackles and two sacks in 2011, but he will need to be more disruptive with the departure of Andre Branch who led the conference with 10.5 sacks last year. Goodman is the only returning defensive lineman with a sack, and he has to perform at a high level.

Potential breakout player: Middle linebacker Stephone Anthony has all the physical tools to be an all-conference linebacker in his second year at Clemson. The linebacker unit only had two sacks in 2011, and Anthony had both of them. Don’t be surprised if this true sophomore has a breakout year with Venables, who wants his linebackers going downhill.

For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from ACC bloggers Shawn Krest and Sean Bielawski, follow @CBSSportsACC.