CLEMSON -- The Clemson football team has a fleet of offensive skill players and a burgeoning star quarterback in Tajh Boyd. These are the known assets. But plenty remains unknown about this young team as spring practice begins today. Here are five questions the coaching staff hopes to answer before the April 14 spring game:
The worry for Clemson is the parallel to 2008. Just as it was that season, Clemson is rich with skill players, inexperienced along the offensive front and will open the season in the Georgia Dome. Clemson must replace three starters along the offensive line, and coach Dabo Swinney said that is the No. 1 priority this spring.
"We have a lot of questions, a lot of openings," Swinney said of the line. "We have bodies. We have really athletic guys, but can we get them ready to play?"
The only player returning with double-digit career starts is center Dalton Freeman. Swinney has been encouraged by the offseason work of
guard/tackle Brandon Thomas, who became a starter in the second half of the season.
The biggest area of concern along the line is at tackle where both starters, Phillip Price and Landon Walker, have graduated. Swinney said four young tackles -- 6-7 true freshman Isaiah Battle, Shaq Anthony (6-4, 275), Gifford Timothy (6-6, 315) and Joe Gore (6-6, 260) -- will compete for those two positions.
First-team running back Andre Ellington is a star when he's healthy, but he's been sidelined for parts of the last two seasons with injuries. When Ellington was not 100 percent last year, the team lost offensive balance.
Clemson did not sign a true running back in 2012, meaning much of the position's depth will be dependent upon Mike Bellamy living up to his five-star status and staying in good standing. Bellamy was suspended indefinitely prior to the ACC title game, but Swinney said Bellamy will return to practice today.
"He's been doing OK," Swinney said. "This is a big spring for him."
Swinney wants Bellamy to increase his weight to 186 pounds. He was 168 pounds last season.
One of the reasons Swinney hired Brent Venables as defensive coordinator was to improve Clemson's linebacker play. Swinney wants Clemson's linebackers making more big plays. No linebacker has a better chance to become a star under Venables than sophomore Stephone Anthony, who led the linebackers with six tackles for loss last season.
Said Swinney: "(Anthony) is an All-American in the making."
Unlike last season when Clemson was without 31 scholarship players in the spring due to injury and fresehmen who had not arrived on campus, this spring Clemson will be without just 14 of its scholarship players. Running back/receiver Zach Brooks and safety Travis Blanks -- who is already impressing the staff with his work ethic -- have already enrolled. Swinney said it's critical his young players take advantage of spring practice.
Clemson has enjoyed a wealth of defensive line talent the last three seasons with Ricky Sapp, Da'Quan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins, Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch. All of those players have or will be selected in the NFL draft. Clemson has just one senior defensive lineman -- Malliciah Goodman -- and needs to see growth from players like Corey Crawford, Tavaris Barnes and DeShawn Williams.
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