After yet another season of unfulfilled expectations in Tigertown, one which saw the departure of Tommy Bowden. First year Head Coach Dabo Swinney looks to achieve the consistent results his predecessor could not.
Clemson got a boost in the offseason as all-everything back CJ Spiller decided to return for his senior season, a shot in the arm for Swinney and rookie Offensive Coordinator Billy Napier.
However, there are important positions that need to be filled and Coach Swinney and his staff are hard at work. The talent is there, but that is nothing new at Clemson.
First and foremost, the quarterback position is up for grabs. While some fans were disappointed with Cullen Harper last year, starlet redshirt sophomore Willy Korn has yet to impress in his limited opportunities.
He will battle with redshirt freshman Kyle Parker, who boasts a strong arm, smarts, and great mobility. His duties as a Clemson baseball star may cost him the starting job for the opener, but this is going to be a battle throughout 2009.
Elsewhere on offense, the big question is wide receiver. Jacoby Ford returns and will be the go-to man, however, the departures of Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham leave big holes. Look for sophomore Marquan Jones to be heavily involved, although he is much like Jabocy Ford in size and speed.
The Tigers will be looking for junior Xavier Dye to step up as the tall, possession receiver. He has failed to live up to his significant talent level so far, however.
The other two receivers to keep an eye on are Brandon Clear and Brandon Ford, both over 6'4", and in their second year with Clemson. Replacing Aaron Kelly will be a huge key for Swinney's Tigers.
Additionally, while Spiller will be the center of the Clemson attack, the Tigers will rely on the development of young starlets Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington to provide important yards for the offense.
Harper, the highly touted sophomore, has lost 20 pounds in two months, and looks to be the bruiser with great speed to replace James Davis. Ellington is young, elusive, and skillful, hoping to follow in Spiller's footsteps.
It is critical for these two talented backs to progress, as Spiller will be asked to split out at receiver to help alleviate the questions at that position.
On defense, the only question in terms of position battles is at safety, where the loss of Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons will loom large. Senior Sadat Chambers and the highly touted sophomore Spencer Adams look to fill the void.
However, new Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele will look to move DeAndre McDaniel from linebacker back to his natural position of safety. Expect McDaniel to start opening day at strong safety, with Adams and Chambers fighting for the free safety position.
The rest of the names on defense will remain largely the same, with the scheme under Steele being the bigger question. Although the Tigers lost tackles Rashaad Jackson and Dorell Scott to graduation, youngsters Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson got significant playing time last year, and appear more than capable of filling those holes.
Those are the big questions in terms of positions as Clemson exits spring practice and looks toward summer workouts. As we have seen with the Tigers over the last several years, however, talent is not the concern. The real burden is on Swinney to get the results.
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