on August 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Twenty days of practice with the Clemson Tigers

CLEMSON — Okay, it’s finally here. Starting this afternoon the college football season begins at Clemson. In what is the most anticipated beginning to the regular season since the days Levon Kirkland, Chester McGlockton, Brentson Buckner and Ed McDaniel walked the campus, the Tigers begin their quest for their first ACC Championship in 17 years.

Fall practice gets under way today on the practice fields behind the Jervey Athletic Center where Clemson will try to live up to the expectations of its fans and the media who picked it to win the ACC just 11 days ago.

“A lot of it depends on how the players respond to it,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said.

Part of the players’ response will come in the next 20 practices as the Tigers prepare for Alabama in the Chick-fil-A College Football Kickoff Aug. 30 in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. These 20 practices will be very instrumental in Clemson’s development as a football team especially in areas where there is great concern, such as the offensive line and linebackers.

In the next 20 days, Clemson, its fans and the media will have a pretty good idea if indeed the Tigers can live up to their lofty preseason status. So, what does Clemson need to get accomplished – in no particular order – in the next 20 days before classes begin on Aug. 20?

20. Fill in the holes on both sides of the ball. Believe it or not, despite all of the talent that is returning, Clemson has some holes to fill and questions that must be answered before the Alabama game. The obvious holes are on the offensive line and at linebacker, but as this list continues, the others will come into light.

19. Develop continuity on the offensive line. This primarily will not get the chance to develop until the team is allowed to go to full pads – per NCAA rules. After that, they will get plenty of opportunities to develop cohesiveness from a group that’s replacing four starters with freshmen and sophomores. In all, the Tigers will have three stadium scrimmages to help with this.

18. Find quality backups on the O-line. Granted its important the Tigers find four starters first, but finding quality depth here is even more important. No area, other than the defensive line, gets beat up more so it’s important to find those who can come in and play quality minutes against top-notch defensive tackles and ends. Look to see guys like Jock McKissic, who moved over from the defensive line in the spring, Jamarcus Grant, Mason Cloy and Landon Walker to perhaps step up and take on some of these roles. Freshman tackle Antoine McClain might also play a part if he can grasp his assignments in camp.

17. Find some tacklers. The Tigers must replace four of their top six tacklers from last season. The two who return – Michael Hamlin (97) and Chris Clemons (94) – are both safeties and it’s doubtful defensive coordinator Vic Koenning wants his top tacklers to come from the secondary.

16. Find depth at linebacker. It’s well documented that Clemson must first find three new starters at the backer positions, but who will provide backup roles. Look for some of those candidates to maybe be Jeremy Campbell, Stanley Hunter, Josh Miller and Tarik Rollins.

15. Replace Phillip Merling. Da’Quan Bowers seems to be an adequate replacement, but the old saying goes, “You never count on a true freshman.” Though Bowers in the long run will be a great player, replacing Merling’s 78 tackles, seven sacks and 17 tackles for a loss will still be difficult.

14. Get the freshmen running backs ready to play. It’s great to have a backfield like James Davis and C.J. Spiller, but odds are both will be playing on Sundays next fall. With that said, it’s important freshmen Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington learn as much of the offense as they can so they will be ready for the Alabama game and so on. The more these two play, the better it will be for the Clemson offense next season.

13. Get Xavier Dye ready. With Aaron Kelly set to leave at the end of the season, it’s time to get Dye more involved in the offense so he can jump right into Kelly’s shoes next season. Both players have the same type of body frame, but Dye has the potential to be more explosive.

12. Make sure Willy Korn is ready. It’s safe to say he is, but with four new starters on the offensive line, one can never be too sure. If something happens to starter Cullen Harper, Korn has to be ready to step in and guide this potentially explosive offense.

11. Develop depth at safety. Hamlin and Clemons are two of the country’s best, but who is behind them? DeAndre McDaniel is with the team right now, but how much will his legal issues hurt the team in the long run? Look to see safeties Spencer Adams and Rashard Hall get worked into the rotation along with junior Sadat Chambers.

10. Become more physical. The biggest knock on Clemson the last two years is its lack of toughness against teams like Boston College and Virginia Tech. That toughness is developed in camp, and if Clemson is going to run the football between the tackles against talented defensive fronts, and stop the run against physical offensive lines, then it must develop that mentality in the hot summer sun in August.

9. Create competition at punter. Jimmy Maners averaged 42.8 yards a punt last season, the problem is he out-kicked his coverage too often, allowing big run backs to occur. It’s important Maners develops better hang time, and maybe getting some competition from guys like Richard Jackson and freshman Dawson Zimmerman will get that fixed.

8. Get more consistency from Buchholz. Granted Mark Buchholz set a school record for points in a season with 114 in his first years as a kicker, while also starting for the Clemson soccer team. But look how many points he left off the scoreboard – 42 while making just 22-of-36 kicks (61.1 percent). Now that his soccer career is a thing of the past, maybe that will not be an issue this year.

7. Redzone offense. Clemson led the ACC in scoring and redzone offense, but those marks can be skewed somewhat when examining them. The Tigers moved the ball well from the 20s but struggled once it reached the redzone. Just look at Buchholz’s numbers. Ten of his 36 attempts where spotted inside the 20-yard line, while he also had nine more attempts marked from the 22-yard line and in. That’s 19 drives that bogged down once Clemson reached the redzone area.

6. What freshmen will play? There’s no doubt Bowers is going to play and Harper and Ellington need to gain some experience. After that, there are question marks. Bowden said in the spring he expects somewhere between six and seven of the incoming freshman to play this season. Look for the coaching staff to identify that final three or four before the end of this 20-day period.

5. Who will be the linebackers? Who is going to step up and be that next Leroy Hill, Keith Adams or Anthony Simmons? Brandon Maye was impressive at times in the spring and the coaching staff likes him at middle linebacker as well as Kavell Conner and Stanley Hunter at weakside. Scotty Cooper will start the summer as the starter at strongside, but Campbell and Rollins are pushing for playing time, along with McDaniel who could help here in special packages and situations.

4. Correct kick coverage. It seems to happen at least once or twice a year under Bowden, but with the naming of Andre Powell as special teams coordinator, Bowden hopes to have this problem solved by the time camp is over.

3. Figure a way to get the ball to all of the playmakers. There were times last season when it appeared guys like Davis, Spiller, Kelly and Jacoby Ford were not on the field. With so many dangerous weapons, Clemson might have outthought itself at times. Finding new ways to get these four the ball more, especially inside the 20, will eliminate most of the Tigers’ redzone deficiencies.

2. Avoid injuries. This one is difficult to achieve obviously, but it seems at least one or two season-ending injuries come out of camp each year. If the Tigers can get out of camp relatively healthy, then they have a chance to be even better than they are already.

1. Develop a winning attitude. Bowden said it’s how his team responds in handling the expectations of being favored to win the ACC. This is what he means. Clemson’s players have to want to be the best and know that they are the best if they want to win the ACC. All the great championship teams from the past will tell anyone that from Day 1, they truly knew, they didn’t think, they knew they were the best team. That winning attitude is born in camp. If the Tigers leave camp without achieving this one goal, then none of the other stuff will matter.