CLEMSON - As he was rattling off names of defensive players who stood out in Wednesday's spring practice, Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden mentioned a good play by cornerback Justin Miller in a goal line situation.
Under normal circumstances, a coach praising the player many believe to be the best on his roster wouldn't be news. But when you've passed the halfway point of spring practice and it's the first positive thing said about that player, then it becomes worthy of a follow-up question.
Which is exactly what Bowden got. What is it about Miller's play that has disappointed the coach this spring?
"(Justin) can be an exceptional player, and he's not playing exceptionally," Bowden said. "I'm sure from a coaching standpoint we want what he wants - for him to be the best he can be. Sometimes he's not challenged out there, but again he needs to compete with himself.
"Today he made some plays out there that kind of reminded us of some plays he made earlier in his career."
Miller's spring has been overshadowed by the daily performance of Tye Hill at the other cornerback spot, as well as this week's move of C.J. Gaddis from third-string quarterback to No. 2 corner.
Bowden said Gaddis made a number of impressive plays at his new position during Wednesday's partial scrimmage, but said moving the redshirt freshman was in no way intended to send a message to Miller. It was done solely with the idea of improving the defense.
"It's a difficult place to find talented guys, and C.J.'s an awfully talented player," said Bowden. "Right now he's an injury away from being a starter, and by the end of spring he might be one anyway. It's such a hard position, and it gives you much more flexibility if you have solid guys out there on the edges."
Meanwhile, Bowden said the defense made at least a few strides on Wednesday.
Besides Miller, Bowden pointed out interceptions by Gaines Adams and Tavaughn Monts, a fumble recovery by Tremaine Billie and solid overall play by Jamaal Fudge.
"Defensively we were a lot better. It's the best we've done overall," Bowden said. "We still weren't as good as we need to be on goal line - they (offense) ended up about 50-50 - but overall this is the first scrimmage we've had where the offense didn't take the first drive and get points.
"We turned it over too much on offense, but defensively we raised it another notch. At least a notch closer to where we need to go. We've closed the gap a little bit, but not nearly enough. I'd rather the defense be way ahead (but instead) we're closing the gap from behind."