Freshman Eric Coleman to Start at Defensive Tackle

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - Less than three weeks after moving over from the offensive line, it appears true freshman Eric Coleman will start at defensive tackle Saturday at North Carolina State.

Coleman will get the nod in place of senior Nick Eason, who continues to battle a sprained ankle. Eason will play, but exactly how much remains unknown.

The announcement comes as something of a surprise, considering Coleman's inexperience at the position and the presence of redshirt freshman Donnell Washington as Eason's primary backup. But defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said Coleman's stock has risen quickly.

"Eric's going to start because he's displayed better work habits and more dependability in practice," Herring said following Thursday's workout. "Donnell will play, (DeJuan) Polk will play, and Eason will play depending on how he looks in pregame."

Meanwhile, cornerback Kevin Johnson won't play unless an emergency arises, Herring said. Johnson, suffering from a broken rib, will make the trip to Raleigh, but Toure Francis will start in his place.

"Johnson can't even backpedal right now without wincing," Herring said. "So he probably won't play unless we get two corners hurt, and only then if he says he feels like he can go."

The Tigers' other injury question, starting guard T.J. Watkins is listed as probable with his sprained knee.

Also Thursday, head coach Tommy Bowden again said the punting battle between incumbent Wynn Kopp and Tif Miller will be a game-time decision. Kopp lost the stranglehold on the starting spot by averaging just 32 yards a kick in his last two games.

"Miller's get-off times are getting really good, 2.0-2.1, around there," Bowden said. "Kopp's are under that, but (Miller's) really booming them in practice. It might be a one-shot deal (for Kopp) to see if he can kick himself out of his slump."

Bowden said he would have no qualms about Miller making his college debut on the road in front of a hostile crowd.

"You've got to do it sometime, I guess. If (Kopp) got hurt, he'd do it," said Bowden. "You never find out unless you do it, so hold your breath and close your eyes."

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