Uncertainty Awaits Tigers This Spring

by - Correspondent -

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

CLEMSON -- Not since Tommy Bowden's first year has there been so much uncertainty for the Clemson football program heading into spring practice.

The Tigers have three new faces on their football staff, including two new coordinators to run the offense and defense.

Rob Spence was hired to replace fired offensive coach Mike O'Cain, while Vic Koenning comes in with the hopes to make the defense even more dominate then it was at the end of last year. Koenning, who replaces the dismissed John Lovett, brings with him a scheme that forced an NCAA leading 25 interceptions at Troy in 2004.

What will this spring hold for the Clemson football team? Who will step up and show leadership. What seniors will take the reigns?

The answer to these questions and many more will begin to be answered at 3:30 p.m. today.

1. How will the new coaches and the terminology effect the spring?

Bowden says he doesn't see any reason the offense and defense shouldn't have a productive spring. There will be some different terminology, but it shouldn't affect the flow of practice. The coaching staff's goal for the spring is to find the top 11 guys both offensively and defensively.

"Then I think it's going to be understanding schemes and understanding offense and defense and that's pretty much normal, again a little more different because we are a little more unique because we are changing some terminology," said Bowden.

2. How will Charlie Whitehurst respond to Spence and what he asks the quarterback to do?

Spence has been very impressed with Whitehurst, Will Proctor and the rest of the Clemson quarterbacks. Neither he or Bowden believes Whitehurst will have any problems picking up his offense.

"These guys are all smart guys with great football IQs which is what I expected from (them)," said Spence.

Spence has been known to groom consistent and efficient signal callers. In each of his four years as coordinator at Toledo, the Rockets starting quarterback ranked in at least the top 16 in the nation in passing efficiency. That was quite an accomplishment considering these rankings were achieved by three different quarterbacks. Bruce Gradkowski, ranked in the top six in the nation in passing efficiency each of the last two years and was second in completion percentage each of the last two seasons. Tavares Bolden was 16th in the nation in efficiency in 2001 and Brian Jones ranked third in that category in 2002.

After a successful sophomore campaign where he completed over 62 percent of his passes for 21 touchdowns and 3,561 yards, Whitehurst struggled in 2004.

He completed just 50.7 percent of his passes last fall and threw for just 2,067 yards. He had just 7 touchdowns and threw a career-high 17 interceptions.

" I think (Spence's offense) has always had immediate productivity with passing percentage and completion percentage and completion ratio," Bowden said.

"That's why I think that Charlie being a senior and a pretty stable guy will be productive. He's a pretty level headed constant guy, and I would be disappointed if he doesn't have a pretty productive year."

3. Who will step up at wide receiver? And will this be the year Kelvin Grant finally gets it all together?

Bowden has stressed more than once in the off season that he needs a big play threat again at wide receiver. Whether or not that was addressed in recruiting remains to be seen, but he was probably talking more about what he has in stock. Though the Tigers are thin at the four wide receiver sets, they have quality talent at each spot. Chansi Stuckey and Curtis Baham have shown signs at times that they could be that big time receiver Bowden has talked about. But the guy Clemson fans and Bowden himself would like to see emerge is Kelvin Grant. The 6-foot-2 rising junior has a lot of potential, but he has been plagued by dropped passes, poor route running, academic problems and personal issues. But there are signs that all could be changing.

"Probably the biggest change is we meet once a week with academic support staff and go over a list of pretty good academic performance this week and
(Grant) was on there, which was unusual, good instead of bad. That's a difference," said Bowden.

Stuckey is another wide out Bowden hopes can get more consistent. Stuckey started off last season with a bang, catching 8 passes for 112 yards in the opening win over Wake Forest. But injuries soon followed and he had just 10 catches over the next nine games. He capped the year with 7 catches for 74 yards to lead the Tigers in the season finale over South Carolina.

4. Who will replace ACC Defensive Player of the Year Leroy Hill and all everything corner Justin Miller.

Perhaps Koenning's biggest job is to find quality replacements for two of Clemson's best defensive players in recent memory. Anthony Waters is moving from the Will backer position to the Mike position to replace Hill. Last year, Waters had 70 tackles, including nine for a loss. Bowden sees Waters as one of the guys he is going to count on to raise the bar.

"Anthony Waters I think would be in that position because of losing Leroy Hill and Trey Tate," he said. "Charles Bennett and Tye Hill are a few more when I think of some guys coming back." One of those other guys is Sergio Gilliam, who is expected to replace Miller. Gilliam, Koenning said has a lot to learn, but he has a chance to be a pretty good cover corner, and can be the guy who can replace Miller.

5. How will the spirit of practice be with new coaches, schemes and terminology?

This is the time when the coaches usually have a spring ­ no pun intended ­ in their step and players use the practices as a chance to prove coaches, teammates and fans wrong and move up the depth chart. Look for a few surprise in the spring, especially along the line of scrimmages where competition is stiff, and several players are vying for playing time.

"Spring is always a fun time because you don't play a game," said Bowden.

"You have red-shirt freshman coming in and you're excited to see how the seniors will respond to the senior position which they've never had before."

Will Vandervort is the Sports Editor for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger.

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