Time for Tigers to Get Down to Business


by - Correspondent -
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Derrick Hamilton, the 6'4 wide receiver from Dillon has an injured hamstring heading into the first day of hitting.

CLEMSON, SC -- The preliminaries are over. Beginning today, football workouts at Clemson University will have all the politeness of your fat uncle Bob at an all-you-can-eat barbecue rib buffet.

The first practices in full pads begin today and, much like the captain of a ship, Tommy Bowden stood at the helm Monday evening issuing the final boarding call.

"It doesn't make any difference whether we're ready or not, we've got to go," Bowden said. "The U.S.S. Clemson pulls out at 7:30 a.m. (today). Whoever's going, jump on.

"I'm ready, but I doubt they are. Who wants to hit at 7:30 in the morning?," Bowden continued with a laugh. "They'd rather be sleeping."

All joking aside, today is when many of the questions lingering over the Tigers begin to be answered. Questions like:


AUDIO
Tommy Bowden talks to media after practice


How will the much talked-about freshmen, like Derrick Hamilton, Ronnie Thomas or Keith Kelly, handle contact for the first time?

Will the shuffling of the offensive line, necessitated by the loss of left tackle Akil Smith for the season, be a larger problem that originally anticipated?

Will quarterback Woody Dantzler put even more distance between himself and redshirt freshman Willie Simmons, or will Simmons be able to close the gap?

How will freshman kicker Aaron Hunt fare with bodies flying around him full speed for the first time?

While those situations work themselves out, Bowden's concern now is keeping the team motivated on a day-to-day basis.

"They'll start talking and bantering around a little bit," he said. "The enemy is (just) us right now until you have competition. They'll be motivated against each other for a couple of days, that wears off, then you start getting ready for your first opponent. They'll be fired up here for a day or two, but it'll wear off."

Action of interest Monday saw senior Darrel Crutchfield working with the first team at one cornerback slot, opposite Alex Ardley. Crutchfield and sophomore Brian Mance are vying for playing time early in camp.

But defensive backs coach Jack Hines stressed that running with the first team at this point is no guarantee of a starting position.

"If we started today it would be Crutchfield and Ardley," Hines said. "But we're not starting today, and him and Mance are in a battle out there. That's after one day, and we've got a long way to go before we get to that first ball game."


Notes:

Linebacker Travis Roberts was back on campus Monday, three days after being excused from practice for personal reasons. Roberts did not participate in either of Monday's practice sessions, and his return to the team seems to be up in the air.
"I saw him (Monday) morning, but we don't quite what we're going to do yet," Bowden said. "It might be another day or so."

Still no word on the status of freshman recruit Todd McClinton, the tight end from Dillon. Neither Bowden nor Sports Information Director Tim Bourret had any new updates on McClinton's eligibility status, and Bowden again reiterated that any information at this point would come from the school's Chief Public Affairs Officer, Cathy Sams.

Bowden praised the play of freshmen Thomas, Ryan Hemby and John Leake. Leake, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker from Plano, Texas, is getting serious looks on all special teams units and is pushing for a spot at second-team linebacker.

Terry Witherspoon, who received his diploma last Saturday and will play this season as a graduate student, continues to impress both running with and catching the ball. Currently a 263-pound fullback, Witherspoon could see time at the tailback slot if he can get down to 249 pounds, Bowden said.

At 315 pounds, freshman offensive lineman Greg Walker is playing well enough to cause the coaching staff to raise an eyebrow. If he gets to between 298-305, he could find himself a serious contender for playing time at right guard now that Theo Mougros is battling injuries and his backup, Nick Black, "isn't as hungry as he was during the spring," said Bowden.
"If we can get him in shape, it would be nice to have him on the field. The circle of death (running drill) will get him, probably. He'll either play or be dead, one of the two," Bowden joked.

Injury update. Six Tigers sat out both of Monday's practices with minor injuries. The list includes: Bernard Rambert (RB) ‹ Hip Flexor; Kyle Young (C) ‹ Foot; Mougros (G) ‹ Ankle; Jason LeMay (TE) ‹ Hamstring; Derrick Hamilton (WR) ‹ Hamstring; Keith Kelly (RB) ‹ Hip Flexor.
"If we had a game Saturday they could all play," Bowden said. "But this is the only time we have any real flexibility in holding them out and making sure they're 100 percent healthy."


Dan Scott is the sports editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
His columns can be read at www.dailyjournalmessenger.com.

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