Clemson Football Q&A with Ben Whitehead

Ben WhiteheadCorrespondent IJune 5, 2008

1) The Clemson offensive line gave up 36 sacks in 2007 ranking them near the bottom of Division 1 Football.  Tommy Bowden called the line the most reserved line he ever coached. Given the offensive line struggles what does Rob Spence have to do offensively to get this offense rolling?


Rob Spence is going to do what Rob Spence has always done.  His offensive schemes are designed specifically to enable the offense to produce to the best of its abilities.  You will see a lot of screens, draws and quick passes.  There will be some reverses mixed in and a lot of roll-outs by the quarterback. 


However, this is nothing new for a Rob Spence offense.  These types of plays will get the ball into the skill position players' hands quickly and allow them to do what they do best:  Bust one for a big play.


CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford are two of the nation’s fastest players, so getting them the ball quickly will be key.  James Davis has been the starter at running back for four years and brings a wealth of knowledge of the college game to the backfield.  Cullen Harper is as accurate as any quarterback in the country and has a plethora of weapons to choose from in Ford, Spiller, Aaron Kelly, Tyler Grisham, Xavier Dye, and others.



2) Is Cullen Harper a legitimate Heisman candidate?


Based on his numbers from 2007, Cullen Harper should be one of the top players in contention for the Heisman Trophy in 2008.  His accuracy is second to none and he's got tremendous intelligence in the pocket.  His main area of concern going into 2008 is his big play ability.  Can he get the ball to the play-makers in key situations?  Only time will tell that.  However, if he is able to produce numbers like he did last season there is no doubt he should be one of the front-runners for the Heisman. 


Many people forget that Harper actually had better numbers than Matt Ryan of Boston College, yet Ryan was one of the leading candidates going into the final few weeks of the season.  Now that Harper has a year of experience under his belt, you should expect the see the hype surrounding him grow tremendously.



3) Does Cullen Harper lead the most talented set of skill position players in the ACC with Aaron Kelly, James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford, and

Tyler Grisham?


Without a doubt, this group is the best set of skill players in the ACC.  These six players (including Cullen Harper) bring experience to the table that not many others in the ACC can. 


Kelly and Davis were First Team All-ACC in 2007.  Harper was Second Team and Spiller received Honorable Mention as a specialist.  Add in Tyler Grisham having the best hands in the conference, and arguably the nation, and you've got yourself some of the most talented group of skill players in the country playing for the Clemson Tigers.



4) The Tigers pass defense was ranked 13 in the country in 2008. All four starters in the secondary are returning. With the senior leadership at safety in Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons and the athleticism of cornerbacks Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler is there a better defensive backfield in the country?


There may be several players who are more talented individually than each of these four defensive backs, but as a group, this backfield is one of the best. 


Michael Hamlin has already been named to the Bronko Nagurski Watch List and likely will be a strong contender for the Jim Thorpe Award as well. 


Hamlin and Chris Chancellor led the team in interceptions with four each.  Crezdon Butler is a physical corner and can shut down bigtime receivers.


Each of these players played a key role in Clemson's ranking in the Top 15 in both Pass Efficiency Defense and Pass Defense (Yardage).  Not many secondaries can claim that.   And not many teams will be able to attack this group and be successful at doing so.



5) Is Ricky Sapp going to be a better player then Phillip Merling and Gaines Adams?


Ricky Sapp may or may not be as good as Merling and Adams.  His talent is outstanding and he has come a long way since his freshman year two years ago.  He's athletic and quick and has added some size over the past few years.  He breaks off the ball very well and gets to the backfield quickly.  Having star prospect Da'Quan Bowers on the other end is going to help relieve Sapp of double-teams, thus enhancing his stats. 


When it's all said and done, I believe you will hear Clemson being known as "Defensive End U".  Adams and Merling have already been drafted and it looks as if Sapp and Bowers are no-brainers to go to the NFL once their college careers are over.



6) What teams on the schedule bring concern for the 2008 Tigers?




If you ask anyone on the team or any of the coaches what is the toughest game on the schedule you will hear this reply: "Alabama".  It's the first game of the year, it's in the Georgia Dome and should be a great game set the tone for the entire college football season.


Sure there are plenty of returning players on both offense and defense for the Tigers, but how will that inexperienced offensive line play?  Can Harper recover from his off-season shoulder surgery?  Can Rob Spence find ways to get CJ Spiller the ball? 


All of the questions will be answered that first game. 


Beyond that it looks as if the Tigers toughest games are all on the road. 


Clemson heads to Winston-Salem in early October for their first official road game to take on a Wake Forest team that returns a lot of players.  If the Tigers get past Alabama, they should be 5-0 when traveling to Groves Stadium, a place the Tigers have struggled recently.  The game is also being played on Thursday night on ESPN-just another factor going against the Tigers in this one.  


The Tigers travel to Boston College on November 1.  The Eagles will likely be one of the toughest defenses (if not the toughest) that Clemson faces all year.  Plus, the Eagles have done some heartbreaking over the past three seasons to the Tigers, winning twice in overtime games and last season defeating the Tigers by three in Death Valley to win the Atlantic Division. 


Clemson will face the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee for Bowden Bowl X a week after the BC game.  Then Clemson heads to Charlottesville later in November to take on a fickle Al Groh team and will finish out the season with Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks at home.


Maryland, NC State and Georgia Tech always give the Tigers fits, but it looks as if this talented Clemson team should be able to handle all three of them at home this year.