CLEMSON --The last time Clemson Nation saw its football team in action, the Tigers were trudging off the field following a loss
at a sparsely attended bowl game. The bowl loss was the last college game for Da'Quan Bowers, who is projected to be a top-5 pick in the NFL draft. It was the last game in the up-and-down c areer of quarterback Kyle Parker. It was the last game for offensive coordinator Billy Napier, who was fired days later in the wake of Clemson's first losing season in 12 years.
A new-look Tigers team will be unveiled Friday in the first spring practice of 2011. There's a new offensive coordinator in Chad Morris, a new starting quarterback in Tajh Boyd, and two voids to fill along the defensive front. They are among five story lines to watch this spring.
1. Will plan B(oyd) work?: Give Tajh Boyd credit for showing maturity and ownership of the quarterback position this offseason. Once Morris was hired, Boyd was immediately shadowing him, sitting next to him at a Clemson basketball game, calling him daily. Boyd has a strong arm and good athleticism, skills he displayed in leading Clemson to two late touchdowns in the bowl loss. But will Boyd's decision-making continue to improve? And how quickly will he pick up a new offense after spending two years in Napier's scheme? Boyd is the key player as behind him there is no experience.
2. How quickly will players pick up the new offense … and get in shape?: Morris' scheme is similar to Gus Malzahn's up-tempo approach at Auburn, an offense that didn't take off until Malzahn's second year at Auburn. Not only does a young quarterback, Boyd, have to learn a new offense so do receivers, linemen and running backs. There is also the question of endurance. Morris' goal is to run 80 plays per game, roughly a 20 percent increase from last season for Clemson. Such a rate of snaps will test the endurance of the offensive line. How quickly can the Tigers get in shape?
3. Are the kids all right?: The Tigers have four early enrollee freshmen participating in spring practice. Two of the freshmen are quarterbacks in Tony McNeal and Cole Stoudt, and either could end up backing up Boyd so productive springs are critical. Four-star defensive end prospect Corey Crawford could push to be part of a defensive end rotation, and defensive end/tackle Joe Gore is also in the mix.
4. The Da'Quan void: A top-20 ranked defense from a year ago loses Bowers, the former No. 1 overall recruit who lived in opponents' backfields last season, swatting away double teams to lead the nation in sacks (15 1/2) and tackles for loss (26). Bowers was equally dominant in rushing the passer and defending the run. Teams do not replace stars bound for the top five of the NFL draft. The Tigers have capable ends with upside in Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch, and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will have spring practice and August camp to figure out how best to mitigate the loss of Bowers and the loss of productive tackle Jarvis Jenkins.
5. Secondary concerns: Departed from the Clemson secondary are three starters: former All-American safety DeAndre McDaniel, underrated corner/nickel corner Marcus Gilchrist and physical corner Byron Maxwell, who ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the combine and did 24 bench press reps of 225 pounds. In a day and age when teams are passing more and spreading the field with multiple receivers, Clemson must replace three starters in the secondary. This spring, a trio of talented, four-star defensive backs from the 2010 class -- Marcus Robinson, Martin Jenkins and Garry Peters -- must emerge for Clemson.
Clemson spring game
When: April 9, 4 p.m.Where: Memorial Stadium, ClemsonAdmission: Free