March 8, 2006

Clemson looking for replacements

Spring is a time for new beginnings, and few college football teams are looking forward to beginning a new season more than the Clemson Tigers.

The feeling is that the Tigers could reach double-digit victories next season with only a couple of adjustments here and there and a smidgeon of good fortune emitting from Howard's Rock.

We'll have to wait and see about the good luck. The adjustments are being addressed during the Tigers' spring practices.

Surprisingly, replacing departed quarterback Charlie Whitehurst may not be the most pressing issue for coach Tommy Bowden. Fifth-year senior Will Proctor, who subbed for the injured Whitehurst and led Clemson to a come-from-behind victory over Texas A&M in last year's season-opener, is expected to step in to the starter's role.

The focus of the spring figures to be replacing NFL-bound cornerback Tye Hill and settling on a punter.

Either C.J. Gaddis, a part-time starter in 2005 who has 4.4 speed, or Haydrian Lewis - who played in every game a year ago - will likely emerge as Hill's replacement.

"We've got about six guys out there trying to compete at right corner," Bowden said. "Obviously, what Tye has accomplished has become a benchmark for the other guys who have those (NFL) aspirations."

There's almost as much competition at punter, where three-year starter Cole Chason must improve after averaging just 33.4 yards per kick.

Mark Buchholz, a scholarship soccer player, and incoming freshman Richard Jackson are vying for the job. Jackson, a Parade All-American kicker/punter from nearby Greer S.C., averaged 46 yards per punt in high school.

Darity healthy for UNC
The loss of All-ACC senior guard Kyle Ralph and senior tackle Skip Seagraves leaves a gaping hole on the right side of North Carolina's offensive line. A once-heralded recruit may be ready to help.

Calvin Darity, a 2004 four-star recruit from Tallahassee's Lincoln High School, has drawn praise from Tar Heels coach John Bunting for his effort this spring.

The 6-3, 297-pound Darity, who was the top guard prospect in the country, has been slowed by recurring foot injuries since coming to Carolina but is now healthy. The Tar Heels need help up front after averaging just 101.4 rushing yards per game last season. In 2005, North Carolina ranked 106th out of 117 teams in rushing yardage.

New look at A&M
Attempting to bolster a ragged defense that allowed 443.8 yards per game (107th nationally), new Texas A&M defensive coordinator Gary Darnell is installing a 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

If nothing else, Darnell hopes the scheme might hide the Aggies' deficiencies at linebacker.

A&M hopes to build its defense around big, physical safeties that line up at different places on the field.

"Regardless of what scheme you play you normally have one or two guys who'll move throughout the scheme," new safeties coach Bill Clay said. "If you just say a guy is an outside linebacker and he lines up in the same place, my daughter in the 50th row can tell you where he is on the field."

The prototype safety for A&M's defense is 6-foot-3, 217-pounds with 4.6 speed, and he's not on the Aggies' current roster.

The leading candidates at safety are Melvin Bullitt (6-1, 201), Alton Dixon (5-11, 205), Stephen Hodge (6-1, 224) and Japhus Brown (5-11, 199).

However, junior college signees Jonathan Batson (6-2, 190) and Jarius Neal (6-3, 218) will vie for those positions when they arrive on campus this summer.

Texas ties
A&M's hiring of Van Malone as cornerbacks coach last week seems innocuous enough, except that he played collegiately for rival Texas. He's the third member of Dennis Franchione's coaching staff that has ties to Texas.

Offensive Coordinator Les Koenning Jr. played at Texas, and Darnell was defensive coordinator for the Longhorns under John Mackovic.

The Texas ties have rankled some Aggies. Perhaps they should be reminded that some of the best seasons in A&M history occurred under head coach Emory Bellard, who coached under Darrell Royal in Austin.

If Malone and Darnell can patch up A&M's pass defense, the doubting Aggies will quickly forget the past.

Last season A&M ranked last in pass defense, allowing 304.6 yards per game.

Speed to burn
LSU always forces a lot of punts, which means the Tigers always have a lot of chances to score. And that's before the offense takes the field.

Next season figures to be no different.

The only question is whether blazing-fast Xavier Carter or equally-blazing-fast Trindon Holliday will succeed Skyler Green as the punt returner.

Green averaged 13.3 yards a return last season and ran one back for a touchdown.

Carter and Holliday are sprinters on the LSU track team. Carter, a junior, holds the school record in the 200-meter dash. Holliday, a freshman, has clocked a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash.

The biggest difference between them is their size. Carter is 6-feet-3, 198-pounds. Holliday is 5-6, 165.

Missing two, adding one
Although spring football doesn't begin until March 29, Ohio State has been conducting "team building" practice sessions at 6 a.m. A few key contributors are skipping the sessions.

Running back Antonio Pittman, the Buckeyes' leading rusher last season with 1,331 yards, and defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock have sat out drills with minor aches and pains.

However, the sessions have included kicker Jonathan Skeete, who was suspended from the team in May 2005 after an arrest for marijuana trafficking.

Skeete pleaded guilty to one charge of felony drug trafficking. He was readmitted to the university and is a walk-on.

Olin Buchanan is the Senior College Football Writer for Buchanan will be covering the national college football scene, traversing the country on a regular basis for the very latest in college football news.

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