10 Questions Entering Fall Practice: #10 Which Freshmen are going to play?
Coming fresh off one of Tommy Bowden's best recruiting classes, there has been a lot of discussion of which true freshmen will play this season. There could be six to eight true freshmen see the field, but first you must look at some talented redshirt freshmen, who will make an impact.
On the defensive side of the ball, as many as seven redshirt freshmen could see playing time this fall. Dorrell Scott, Rashard Jackson, Xavier Littleberry, and Courtney Vincent are being counted upon to sure up the defensive line. Jackson made the move to defensive end in the spring, and for now we believe he will stay there, but if true freshman Phillip Merling can step in right away, Jackson could add depth at tackle. Scott gives Clemson a 300 pound presence in the middle. Scott has some work to do to make the two-deep, but the staff really liked what they saw from him last fall. Littleberry has been reinstated after missing the spring for an off the field incident. Clemson was very thin at defensive end in the spring as they moved Jackson and Vincent to the end positions to have bodies to work with. Littleberry looks the part and could add some much need depth at the bandit position behind Gaines Adams. If Littleberry steps in at the bandit position, you can look for Vincent to move back to linebacker. Vincent was a monster on the scout team defense last year. He is a more natural linebacker, but he played well at bandit in the spring. Vincent is a very hard worker, and he will seemingly put up numbers at any position they ask him to play. This is a situation where we will watch early in the spring for his move back to linebacker.
The secondary has a talented stable of redshirt freshmen as well. Chris Clemons battled Sergio Gilliam the entire spring and finished right on Gilliam's heels for the starting corner spot. Clemons is physical corner, who displayed good cover skills. Clemons is ahead of fellow redshirt freshman Brandon Croley. Croley is physical as well, but he has struggled in coverage. Croley will be challenged by incoming true freshman Ramon McElrathbey to his spot on the two-deep roster. Roy Walker and Michael Hamlin add depth at the safety positions. Both can play either free safety or the cat safety, and they were used at both positions in the spring. Walker appears to be recoverd from his ACL tear and ready to see the field. Walker may find his home at cat safety, as he looked very solid coming up in run support during the spring. Hamlin is long, lean, and athletic. He has good range, and he should really benefit from playing behind Jamaal Fudge this season.
Over on the offensive side, there is two redshirt freshmen that have a chance to play. Aaron Kelly is currently listed as a starter ahead of Kelvin Grant. Kelly closed spring practice very strong. He looked sharp in the last two scrimmages, and he immediately started drawing comparisions to Derrick Hamilton. Hamilton's shoes are some big ones to fill, but Kelly could make a big impact in this offense. He is very elusive, and he gives Whitehurst the big target he missed a year ago. Andrew Diomande could see action at wide receiver this year. Diomande showed improvement, but he is still learning. Expect Diomande to make some noise in 2006.
Now the much anticipated 2005 freshmen class. We see three true freshman that will avoid redshirts on defense. Phillip Merling comes in and will compete right away at defensive end. Merling has the benefit of spending last year at prep school, and he passed the eye test during summer workouts. His speed and power will allow to play either end position. Antonio Clay has a chance to play at linebacker. Linebackers coach David Blackwell wants to have eight linebackers he feels confident with on the field. The 2005 Signing Day surprise has a good chance to land in that mix. Ramon McElrathbey looks to come in and compete right away. McElrathbey will compete with Brandon Croley for the final cornerback spot on the depth chart. McElrathbey will be watched closely as he may be a sleeper to nab the other starting spot by the end of the season. Chris Chancellor and Haydrian Lewis will have a chance to avoid redshirts, but they will be better suited to play next season.
On offense, five true freshman could potentially avoid redshirts. We are confident James Davis, Tyler Grisham, Rendrick Taylor, and Quentez Ruffin will see the field this season. Demerick Chancellor has a good opportunity right now, but it is 50/50 right now as to whether or not he will play. Ruffin looks to make some noise behind Marion Dukes at right tackle. Ruffin bench press over 400 pounds and moves very well at 290 pounds. He is physically far ahead Cory Lambert and Jamarcus Grant. James Davis did not sign with Clemson to redshirt. He showed an outstanding willingness to learn during summer workouts. He soaked up everything Reggie Merriweather, Duane Coleman, and Kyle Browning offered him. The key to how much Davis plays will be his blocking. If he shows he can pick up the blitz and protect, his snap total could significantly increase in 2005. Tyler Grisham and Rendrick Taylor will give wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney eight receivers he feels comfortable with on the field. Taylor struggled a little catching the ball in summer workouts, but give him some time with Swinney and he will be fine. By the way, Taylor failed the eye test miserably...just kidding. Grisham drew praise from Whitehurst. Grisham has looked strong, and he could be the surprise of the class.
There are heavy amounts of young talent on both sides of the ball. How quickly this talent matures will play a role in how successful Clemson is in 2005. This is the deepest crop of talent Tommy Bowden has had at Clemson. Time will tell if this is his best team, but he has a very solid group of veterans and a wealth of young talent behind them.