CLEMSON - As Clemson made its remarkable four-game run down the stretch of the 2003 season, head coach Tommy Bowden gave most of the credit his defense.
It was the defense, he said, which continuously set the stage for his offense to be successful. Bowden even went so far as to say those four games reminded him of the type of defensive units which used to protect Death Valley at the height of Clemson's glory days.
So naturally, he's hoping 2004 begins the way 2003 ended - with a dominant defense leading the way.
"You hope for that carry-over. They've shown flashes of it at times so far," he said following Friday's evening practice. "But it hasn't been consistent yet. We've got to reach a point of consistency."
Once source inside the program said there have been stretches during camp where the Tigers' defense has been "incredible."
The focus on creating more turnovers apparently has led to an aggressive, ball-hawking mentality which seems to be spreading. The number of turnovers forced in practice so far has been "amazing," the source said, even taking into account the wet conditions earlier in the week.
The problem, Bowden said again, is finding the consistency.
"There have been times when the carry-over from last year has been very good," he said. "But there have been other times when it hasn't. We did some short yardage situations the other day where there was no carry-over. We did some first-and-10 situations where there was none.
"So that's the big thing. Being able to do it all the time."
Bowden acknowledged the defense has had the upper hand in each of the last two days. One of the players to catch Bowden's attention during that span is defensive end Charles Bennett.
Bennett, a redshirt junior, has "come on the radar since the spring," Bowden said.
"He may be the most consistent performer, other than Leroy Hill, over there. (Rover) Jamaal Fudge is consistent, quiet and steady. But Bennett is a little more in your eye because he's a pass-rusher, and you can see him more than you can a Jamaal Fudge. He's really, really done well."
Another defensive lineman who caught Bowden's eye in recent days is redshirt freshman defensive tackle Chris McDuffie.
Of course, McDuffie may not be available for the Sept. 4 season-opener vs. Wake Forest. McDuffie, who has applied for pretrial intervention after his arrest on drug-related charges back in July, remains subject to team-related discipline from Bowden, as well.
Bowden refused to say what such punishment might be.
"I'll address that at the appropriate time," he said.
- Before any questions were asked Friday, Bowden went out of his way to praise the play of his freshman class.
"I've talked about the two freshman offensive tackles (Barry Richardson and Akeem Robinson) previously and they have continued to play well," Bowden said. "But Michael Hamlin (defensive back) and the two wide receivers, La' Donte Harris and Aaron Kelly, have also played well. I've been impressed with the two quarterbacks, Tribble Reese and Cullen Harper.
"What impresses me the most (as a group) has been their attitude and the way they fit in with the rest of the team."
- Wide receivers Curtis Baham (shoulder) and Kelvin Grant (bruised knee) were back practicing at full speed Friday. But Chansi Stuckey watched practice with a hip injury. It's not thought to be anything serious, and in fact Stuckey could participate in today's scrimmage."
Guard Chip Myrick was held out of practice again as he continues treatment for mononucleosis.
- Safety Roy Walker (ACL) and defensive end Vontrell Jamison (broken arm) each had their scheduled surgeries Friday. Jamison was already home Friday evening after having a rod placed in his arm. Walker will remain in the hospital over the weekend, Bowden said.
Reserve tight end Kevin Burnette also is recovering from knee surgery to repair a torn ACL.
- It appears offensive tackle Brad Lee's Clemson career is over. Bowden said he expected Lee to attend classes at Clemson this fall, not play football, then transfer at the end of the semester.
- Clemson will scrimmage today at 10 a.m. in Death Valley, weather permitting. The scheduled three-hour practice is closed to the public.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.