CLEMSON - While many observers thought true freshman Justin Miller might end
up taking over junior Kevin Johnson's starting job at cornerback sometime
this season, nobody figured it would happen like this.
Johnson, who had started five of Clemson's six games this season, was
dismissed from the team Wednesday for "a violation of team rules in a matter
related to academics," head coach Tommy Bowden said in a statement. Johnson
had 17 tackles, three passes defended and zero interceptions this season
while splitting time with Miller.
Bowden refused further comment on Johnson following Wednesday's practice,
citing the privacy of student records.
But Sports Information Director Tim Bourret indicated that even if Johnson
did want to play again next season, it appeared there would be no way he
could regain his eligibility.
"All I can tell you is I don't think he's going to play football for Clemson
again," Bourret said.
Bowden said he met with Johnson Monday night and was scheduled to meet with
both Johnson and his mother today. But the coach said he had no idea as to
Johnson's future plans.
Meanwhile, even though the move of Miller into the starting lineup may have
been coming anyway, Johnson's departure significantly weakens the Tigers'
depth at cornerback. Jamaal Fudge, already the backup behind Brian Mance at
the other corner, in all likelihood will be the primary backup at both slots.
Ryan Hemby, who has been on the scout team all season, will be listed as the
No. 2 corner behind Miller.
"Some guys had surpassed (Hemby)," Bowden said. "The guys ahead of him had
all surpassed him. He's been on the scout team. There's not much more you can
Miller's elevation to starter comes after an impressive first six games of
his college career.
He has two interceptions, which is second on the team, four other passes
defended and 19 tackles in a backup role. But his poise and athletic ability
have drawn raves from everyone associated with the Clemson program.
His play last Saturday against Virginia wide receiver Billy McMullen - in
which he wrestled a jump ball away from the Cavaliers' star in the end zone
and nearly came away with an interception - has been typical of his
"I haven't talked much about that play, but that was impressive," Bowden
said. "That's their guy, the same guy they went to here last year to beat us,
and the same play. I'm as confident as you can be in a true freshman (like
Miller), but the good thing is his athletic ability helps him overcome any
mistakes he might make while still learning the position."
- All five injured Clemson players returned to practice Wednesday with
varying degrees of work.
Offensive tackle Gary Byrd (sprained ankle, knee) and running backs Yusef
Kelly and Chad Jasmin (groin injuries) went through full workouts. Running
back Bernard Rambert (bruised ribs) was in a green jersey (limited contact),
while wide receiver Kevin Youngblood (hip) did little more than run a few
Youngblood appears to be the only one of the group who's status remains
questionable for Saturday's game against Wake Forest.
- Another day, another workout and still no definitive word on whether or not
senior Wynn Kopp will do the punting Saturday.
"I want to look at (Kopp and walk-on) Kyle Tucker one more day," Bowden said.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 10 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.