CLEMSON - Injured running back Duane Coleman passed one huge test Wednesday, but still has a final hurdle to clear before returning to action in the Clemson backfield.
Coleman, out with a broken foot since fall camp, went through limited contact during Wednesday's workout at the Jervey practice facility. He came through the practice unscathed, but head coach Tommy Bowden said his status will remain uncertain until just before kickoff Saturday at Texas A&M.
"We'll go out and hit him full speed on game day and make a decision then," Bowden said. "He held up pretty good today, but we didn't really have the full speed collisions you'd like to have, and will have during pregame."
If Coleman passes the Saturday test, then the situation gets interesting.
Senior Yusef Kelly has started the first two games of the season and has been average, at best. His grade drops even further because he has fumbled once in each game, including last week's loss to Georgia Tech when he lost the ball on a play which would have given Clemson a first down and, had all gone as expected, allowed the offense to run out the clock.
Meanwhile, Reggie Merriweather and Kyle Browning each have warranted more playing time with their performances in the first two weeks, and either could be a candidate to start vs. the Aggies if Bowden decides against Kelly.
So if Coleman is able to play, does he become simply Bowden's fourth option at running back?
"I don't know," Bowden said. "It's a good problem to have."
Defensive tackle Donnell Clark suffered a hand injury during Wednesday's practice.
Sports Information Director Tim Bourret could not confirm whether or not the hand was broken, but said whatever the case the injury wasn't severe enough to keep Clark from playing Saturday.
Meanwhile, fellow defensive linemen Charles Bennett (sprained knee) and Cory Groover (sprained ankle) both completed the full workout Wednesday.
"They're not 100 percent, but maybe they will be by Saturday," Bowden said. "They're still nicked up. Their bodies ain't right."
Final decisions on which second teamers will see more playing time could come as soon as today.
Pressed on the issue Wednesday, Bowden wouldn't disclose who might be forcing their way into a rotation spot. But he did say it probably would be more noticeable on defense than on offense, especially since the offensive line already rotates 8-10 players.
"There will be some guys play more, but I can probably make a better comment on who a little later," Bowden said. "But there are some second team guys who have merited more playing time, and I've asked the assistant coaches to do what we did with the running backs - just put 'em in. Let's go play."
Quote of the Day:
Clemson Sports Information Director Tim Bourret, trying to help Bowden answer questions about Coleman's possible playing time Saturday:
"The single game record for carries is 36 (set by Raymond Priester)," Bourret said. "He'll probably get less than that."
"I wish I could get in a game where one guy could get 36 carries."
Clemson's travel plans to College Station remain intact, at least for the moment, despite the pending landfall of Hurricane Ivan.
The team is scheduled to fly charter out of Greenville at 2 p.m. Friday. Bowden said the bigger worry was possible delays getting home after the game Saturday night.
"We may have to stay until Sunday," he said.