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Clemson opening practice with questions about depth

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CLEMSON — There is no quarterback controversy as Clemson opens football camp today.

There is no concern over whether there are adequate offensive weapons. The Tigers have talent at running back and wide receiver.

Instead, there are new questions about inexperience along the lines and overall depth, concerns Clemson must address if the Tigers are going to repeat as ACC champions.

Here’s a look at five questions Clemson hopes to answer before its season opener Sept. 1 against Auburn in Atlanta:

The blame for Clemson’s second-half failings in 2011 was pinned to the defense. But another significant culprit was the lack of depth. When Andre Ellington went down, there was no capable backup at running back. When Phillip Price was hurt, the offensive line performance collapsed. There was little quality depth at any defensive position.

Will freshman Zac Brooks or D.J. Howard emerge as a competent backup at running back where Ellington has struggled to remain healthy? Can young players like Shaq Anthony and Jay Guillermo emerge to provide depth for a thin offensive line?

2. How weak is the weakest link?

Any time a reserve defensive tackle becomes a starting offensive guard during the offseason, there is cause for concern.

Clemson returns only 48 career starts along its offensive line. One of the new projected starters is Tyler Shatley, who played defense last season. The coaches have expressed optimism the line will not derail the offense, but offensive line experience is often a predicator of success. Like the letdown season of 2008, Clemson replaces four starters along the front. How well new projected starters Brandon Thomas (left tackle), Kalon Davis (left guard), Gifford Timothy (right tackle) and Shatley (right guard) jell this fall could go along way into determining Clemson’s 2012 season.

3. Who is the real Tajh Boyd?

Is second-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd more like the guy who looked like a Heisman candidate in leading Clemson to an 8-0 record and No. 5 BCS ranking with 24 touchdown passes last season? Or the player who had nine interceptions as Clemson lost four of six games down the stretch?

Defenses began to make adjustments to the Clemson offense last year, and now opposing coordinators will have had a full offseason to watch film of Boyd. The Clemson staff says better decision-making could have eliminated many of Boyd’s second-half issues.

4. Will Clemson be able to get downhill?

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said he wants his linebackers making more impact plays, playing more “downhill.” What Venables means is he wants his linebackers doing more reacting and playmaking and less thinking, which was an issue under Kevin Steele. Players said Venables’ system, particularly communication, was less complex this spring than under Steele.

5. How quickly can the Tigers grow up?

Sixty-one of Clemson’s scholarship players (72 percent) are freshmen or sophomores. Will that hinder the coaches’ ability to install the playbook this summer? Will leadership be cultivated?

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