March 7, 2010

Clemson begins search for new talent

Tajh Boyd is ready for his close-up.

Boyd, the No. 4 pro-style quarterback nationally in the 2009 recruiting class, spent last season on the sideline as a redshirt while Kyle Parker guided Clemson to its first ACC title game appearance.

Parker will sit out at least four spring practice sessions while playing on Clemson's baseball team, which should give Boyd plenty of opportunities to guide the first-team offense.

Clemson features plenty of experience on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but the Tigers will have plenty of new faces at the skill positions. The return of strong safety DeAndre McDaniel gives Clemson a legitimate All-America candidate on defense, but the Tigers still have plenty of questions to answer at linebacker.

Here's a look at where Clemson stands heading into spring practice.

CLEMSON AT-A-GLANCE
End Da'Quan Bowers is part of a strong defensive line for the Tigers.
THE BASICS
COACH: Dabo Swinney
LAST SEASON: 9-5 overall, 6-2 in the ACC. Won the ACC Atlantic Division. Lost 39-34 to Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game. Beat Kentucky 21-13 in the Music City Bowl.
SPRING DATES: March 7-April 10
RETURNING STARTERS
OFFENSE (7): TE Dwayne Allen, WR Xavier Dye, C Dalton Freeman, T Chris Hairston, G Antoine McClain, QB Kyle Parker, T Landon Walker.
DEFENSE (7): E Da'Quan Bowers, FS Marcus Gilchrist (moving to CB), S Rashard Hall, T Jarvis Jenkins, LB Brandon Maye, SS DeAndre McDaniel, T Brandon Thompson.
SPECIAL TEAMS (2): K Richard Jackson, P Dawson Zimmerman.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Defensive end Ricky Sapp is on his way to the NFL after leading the Tigers with five sacks in his senior year, but Clemson still should boast an outstanding defensive line. Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson each recorded at least 50 tackles last year - an unusually high total for interior players - and E Da'Quan Bowers showed his star potential by recording 11 stops in the ACC championship game. The loss of C.J. Spiller forces Clemson to replace one of its greatest players in school history, but the Tigers still have plenty of options at running back. Andre Ellington rushed for 491 yards on just 68 carries last season, while Jamie Harper ran for 418 yards on 80 attempts. Roderick McDowell also could get plenty of carries this season. The return of All-America candidate DeAndre McDaniel at strong safety leaves Clemson in good shape in the secondary, particularly if Marcus Gilchrist makes a successful transition to cornerback from free safety. Clemson must replace its two starting cornerbacks, but Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell could prevent Clemson from suffering much of a drop-off. Clemson lacks stars but has plenty of experience on the offensive line.

POSITIONS OF NEED

Linebacker was a major concern for Clemson last season, and that doesn't figure to change this season. Brandon Maye is the only Clemson linebacker assured of a starting job. Clemson had such depth problems at this position a year ago that the Tigers ran at least 600 plays in a nickel formation that put just two linebackers on the field. Don't be surprised if that happens again this season.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

TE Dwayne Allen: Allen is the most likely candidate to replace the departed Michael Palmer as Clemson's starting tight end. Palmer caught 43 passes for 507 yards last season, so the Tigers figure to utilize Allen in the passing game quite a bit.

WR Jaron Brown: Although Brown caught only three passes for 30 yards as a redshirt freshman last season, he could emerge as one of Clemson's top receivers in his sophomore season. His combination of size (6 feet 2/195 pounds) and speed gives him plenty of big-play potential.

RB Andre Ellington: As a redshirt freshman, Ellington rushed for nearly 500 yards even though he never had more than nine carries in a game. That shouldn't be a problem this season. Ellington and Jamie Harper should get the bulk of the ball-carrying responsibilities as the Tigers look to replace C.J. Spiller. Ellington probably won't average 7.0 yards per carry again, but he might reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

WR Xavier Dye: Dye opened the 2009 season in the starting lineup, but he quickly fell down the depth chart and briefly quit the team after he didn't play a down in a September loss to Georgia Tech. Dye rejoined the team and went on to finish the season with 14 catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Dye, a senior, has a chance to crack the starting lineup. However, he must deliver solid results in the spring or risk getting passed on the depth chart by younger teammates such as Brown and Bryce McNeal.

THE BUZZ

Clemson returns its entire coaching staff from last season, but it didn't always look as though that would be the case. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele reportedly reached a deal to take over as defensive coordinator at Tennessee before changing his mind and deciding to remain at Clemson. From a national perspective, the biggest question facing Clemson is how the Tigers will replace Spiller, who is the ACC's career leader in all-purpose yardage. There also is at least an outside chance Clemson might have to replace Parker, a draft-eligible former All-ACC baseball player who was batting .435 with three homers and seven RBIs through the first six games of the Tigers' season. The possibility that baseball could cause Parker to cut short his football career increases the importance of Boyd's development this spring. If Parker does get drafted high enough to launch a pro baseball career, Boyd could take over as Clemson's starting quarterback sooner than expected. Mason Cloy, a part-time starting guard last season, will sit out most of spring practice as he recovers from a broken leg he suffered in the ACC championship game. Cloy could be available for light duty at the end of spring practice.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




 

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