5 Things To Watch In Spring Football
1. New Coordinators, New Results?
At this writing Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden has yet to name replacements for fired coordinators Mike O'Cain (offense) and John Lovett (defense). When those hires are made, it won't take long for the questions to begin flowing: Can the new offensive coordinator dramatically improve the 109th most productive (out of 117) unit in the nation? Will Bowden actually relinquish some or all control of the offense to the new coordinator? Can a defense which was very good over the final six games of 2004 be great for 11 in 2005, as Bowden wants? Will the new staff mesh quickly enough? It should be an interesting spring.
2. No Heisman Talk This Time Around.
This time a year ago quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was coming off a fantastic sophomore season, with expectations for an even better junior year. Instead, early struggles by his offensive line and inconsistency all season in his receiving corps led to a trying year for Whitehurst. Admirably, he handled the tribulation like a true leader, realizing and accepting his shortcomings while, at the same time, taking the blame for those of others. The entire experience should make Whitehurst not only a better quarterback, but a better person. With his final spring practice rolling around, expect Whitehurst to be more focused than ever.
3. Holes To Fill; Who's Got a Shovel?
Among the positions needing to be filled this spring are the starting center, wide receiver, middle linebacker and, depending on Justin Miller's decision, cornerback. Wideout Airese Currie and LB Leroy Hill, a pair of first team All-ACC performers, put up the gaudiest numbers and will be the most difficult to replace. Bowden has been complimentary of his recent recruiting classes, and several backups played well in limited roles last season. But who steps to the forefront and turns in the big numbers? Who becomes the next major playmaker?
4. Can They Catch A Cold?
For all the hype about talent and potential, Clemson's receiving corps was a major disappointment in 2004. Currie's spectacular season aside, not one returning wideout showed themselves to be a consistent threat. Chansi Stuckey is the most likely choice as the next big playmaker, but he had exactly two standout performances last season - Game One and Game 11. Kelvin Grant and Curtis Baham both have the tools, but both - especially Grant - drop too many passes. The trouble isn't physical. It's mental. The drops, the suspensions (Grant and Baham each missed a game in 2004), etc. All point to players with priorities that need reexamining. The talent is there, yes. But if the performances don't improve in the spring, any one of a number of young receivers could get a chance to steal a position.
5. It Trickles Down From The Top.
Despite all the turmoil around the way 2004 ended and the firings that followed, there was never any question about Bowden's job security. But in making those moves (O'Cain, Lovett), the first firings in his Clemson career, Bowden put a stamp on the program as his. Now, what will the trickle-down effect be? Have messages been sent? Will another mediocre season render further changes? With the WestZone Project and its funding hanging over everyone's head, can Clemson - and Bowden - stand another mediocre season?
It should be an intriguing spring.