CLEMSON - As Tommy Bowden addressed the 20 or so media members gathered around him following Friday's first practice, one word kept creeping into his conversation.
For the first time in his tenure at Clemson all 105 players allowed on the roster were present for the first workout of the season, including all 21 incoming freshmen. But instead of his usual "alignment and assignment" rhetoric after the initial practice, Bowden came away from Friday's three-hour session convinced there will be more position battles in the next four weeks than in any of his previous six seasons.
"This is probably the most competitive it's been this time of year," Bowden said. "Usually we have more jobs nailed down by now, but there will be some movement. I'd say a whole lot during the next 28 practices, before we play the first game, based on what I saw today."
Much of that competition will come directly from the younger Tigers on the roster, which could include a number of the true freshmen.
Such news is one sign the talent level continues to rise at Clemson, Bowden said. But another factor also comes into play this year. Freshmen were allowed to attend the second semester of summer school, giving them a six-week head start on college life.
Nineteen of Bowden's 21 signees attended the second summer session, and Bowden believes that played a role in what he saw Friday.
"Just seeing their comfort zone around the team," he said. "They moved with a little more confidence. They weren't being nearly as indecisive. You could really see the difference.
"You could see some of the young guys showing their skills a little sooner because they felt comfortable, more at ease, this early. That might be why they jumped out the way they did, because there were here six weeks earlier."
Among the early names Bowden called were redshirt freshman Aaron Kelly and true freshmen Rendrick Taylor and James Davis. Davis, one of the more sought after running backs in the country as a high school star, apparently displayed some nice early moves.
"You could see when he went there were flashes of talent," Bowden said. "He'll be in that mix of freshmen I was talking about."
Meanwhile, Bowden said the aforementioned competition was "across the board."
"Charlie (Whitehurst) is pretty solid there at quarterback," he said, "but I'll be surprised if there's not a lot of movement day to day and week to week."
Clemson is scheduled to work out Saturday at 3:15 p.m. and Sunday at 3:45 p.m. The practices are closed to the public.
- Sophomore left tackle Barry Richardson was "skinny," according to Bowden.
Well, not really. But Richardson, who reported to camp a year ago at 367 pounds, showed up Friday in the 330 range which, obviously, pleased the head coach.
"To all the sudden drop 30 or 35 pounds after only one year (in the program)...Now you see a 335-pound skinny guy moving around pretty good," Bowden said.
- Bowden said the team's overall conditioning seemed to be "pretty good," though he did express mild disappointment with some of his upper classmen.
"I thought some of them gave up too easily there at the end (sprints). I mentioned that to them afterwards."
- Only one player was missing from the summer roster on the first day of practice.
Gene Pate, a letterman as the holder on field goals and extra points on Clemson's 2003 team that finished the year 9-4, has decided to retire from football. Pate suffered a broken leg prior to the Virginia game in 2003 when he fell running down the hill during Clemson's celebrated stadium entrance.
He sat out the 2004 season, then attempted a comeback this past spring, but he has decided to give up the game.
- Clemson enters preseason practice with 45 returning lettermen. Only Miami (Fla.) with 53 and North Carolina with 46, have more returning lettermen than the Tigers. Twenty-four of Clemson's returning lettermen on are on offense, one short of the league high of 25 by Miami and Duke.