2008 Clemson Preview - Offense
Clemson WR Aaron Kelly
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Clemson Tiger Offense
Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN Clemson Preview
2008 Clemson Offense
2007 CFN Clemson Preview
2006 CFN Clemson
What you need to know:
The All-ACC trio of QB Cullen Harper, RB James
Davis, and WR Aaron Kelly resisted the
temptation of testing NFL waters, giving Clemson
the key parts of one of the league’s top
offenses. Add in Davis’ dynamic running mate,
C.J. Spiller, and the Tigers have the
ingredients to be balanced and downright
combustible. The key to the success, however,
lies with an offensive line that’ll be breaking
in three new starters, including both tackles.
Chris Hairston and Cory Lambert are being
counted on to win the tackle jobs on a front
wall that could dictate whether or not the
Tigers reach their goals this season.
Passing: Cullen Harper
282-433, 2,991 yds, 27 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: James Davis
214 carries, 1,064 yds, 10 TD
Receiving: Aaron Kelly
88 catches, 1,081 yds, 11 TD
of the offense:
Senior RB James Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RT Chris Hairston
Best pro prospect: Junior RB C.J. Spiller
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis, 2) Senior
QB Cullen Harper, 3) Senior WR Aaron Kelly
Strength of the offense: Talent and depth at the
skill positions, big plays
Weakness of the offense: Uncertainty of the offensive
Projected Starters: So much for the Willy Korn
era beginning last season. In his first year as the starter,
6-4, 220-pound senior Cullen Harper went from a complete
unknown to the first Clemson quarterback in almost a
quarter-century to lead the ACC in passing efficiency. A calming
influence in the huddle, he had one of the best years in school
history, going 282-of-433 for 2,991 yards, 27 touchdowns and
just six interceptions. Harper makes good decisions, rarely
misfires, and will catch defenses off guard with his 4.6 speed.
He’ll be even sharper with a full year behind him, putting the
NFL and a Heisman run within reach.
Projected Top Reserves: Harper was the best thing
to happen to Korn last season, allowing the hot-shot recruit to
redshirt without having to be the face of the program so early
in his career. That day will come, but for now he’ll be able to
learn at a modest pace behind one of the nation’s steadiest
quarterbacks. The best athlete of the quarterbacks, he’s 6-2 and
215 pounds with a nice grasp of the game, a quick release and
even quicker feet. Korn’s time is coming. It’s just not likely
to arrive until 2009.
After playing some safety last year, 6-1, 200-pound sophomore
Mike Wade is back behind center, taking over the No. 3 spot
after opted to leave the program. An exceptional athlete and a
student of the game, he’ll only be used on an emergency basis.
Watch Out For ... Korn to see occasional action in
more than just blowouts. The Tigers have confidence in their
redshirt freshman, recognizing that whatever meaningful reps he
gets this fall will benefit the entire offense in 2009.
Strength: Two quarterbacks capable of starting. If
Harper didn’t seize the opportunity last summer, it’s likely
Korn would be barking out signals in this year’s opener with
Alabama. Harper did come through, however, giving Clemson two
terrific quarterbacks, a luxury for any program.
Weakness: Arm strength. While not a glaring
weakness, neither Harper nor Korn have a rifle, something
coordinator Rob Spence asked the hurlers to address during the
Outlook: In under a year Clemson has turned a
blinking question mark into an ideal situation. In Harper, the
Tigers now have a steady veteran with a future in the pros. In
Korn, they’ve got a brilliant young talent who can use the next
five months as a stepping stone before taking over the job in
Projected Starter: Folks in places, such as Los
Angeles, College Station and Miami may believe otherwise, but no
one in the country has a better backfield tandem than Clemson.
The front man for is senior James Davis, who returned to
school after strongly considering early entry into the NFL
Draft. In three productive seasons, the All-ACC first teamer has
rushed for 3,130 yards and 36 touchdowns, putting him within
range of school marks held by Raymond Priester and Travis
Zachery, respectively. A tough, 5-11, 210-pound north-south
runner, he hits the hole hard, never loses yards, and has a nose
for the end zone. Think Emmitt Smith in terms of running style.
Projected Top Reserves: Davis’ partner in the
backfield will again be junior C.J. Spiller, the homerun
hitter of the ground game and the Tigers’ leader in all-purpose
yards. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he’s lethal with a combination
of blazing speed and shake-and-bake moves that make him
impossible to corral in the open field. In just two seasons his
10 touchdowns of at least 50 yards have already established a
new school record. Last year he ran for 768 yards, caught 34
balls for 271 yards, and was the Tigers’ most dangerous return
To add some depth behind Spiller, the Tigers are flirting with
the idea of moving injury-prone senior Rendrick Taylor to
the backfield where he spent the spring. One of the team’s most
versatile athletes, who was also being considered as a
linebacker, the 6-2, 240-pounder has 46 career catches for 480
yards and a touchdown.
When Clemson uses a fullback, it’s expected to turn to 6-2,
245-pound redshirt freshman Chad Diehl, who was going to
letter a year ago before breaking a bone in his leg. An
outstanding blocker, he has the work ethic and physical demeanor
to become one of the unsung heroes of the running game.
Watch Out For ... Spiller to get more
opportunities to work between the tackles. Tiger coaches would
like to see No. 28 run with more authority than he has in the
last two years. He’ll still do most of his damage on the
periphery, but a more complete Spiller is expected this fall.
Strength: Thunder and lightning. With Davis
working the inside and Spiller owning the outside, Clemson is
home to the best one-two backfield punch in the country. The two
complement one another exceedingly well and are All-America
talents who’ll earn paychecks for playing in the near future.
Weakness: The NFL. The only possible shortcoming
is that Spiller will join Davis and be off to the NFL after this
year, which can sometimes mess with the focus of young athletes
in November and December. It’s a reach, but there isn’t much
these guys do poorly.
Outlook: As long as the Clemson coaching staff can
keep both stars happy and well-fed, Davis and Spiller will again
be the catalysts of one of the most balanced offenses in
America. Anticipating that the backfield could be cleaned out by
next spring, the Tigers will look for spots to get true freshmen
Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington acclimated to the
speed of the game.
Projected Starters: Of the 15 players who caught a
pass last season, 14 are back on campus forming one of the
deepest corps in the country. The headliner is 6-5, 190-pound
senior Aaron Kelly, another Tiger who seriously
considered going pro before deciding to return to school. In his
first season as the go-to receiver, he responded with 88 catches
for 1,081 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning First Team All-ACC
honors and pulling within 52 receptions of the league’s all-time
mark. Long and lean, he has outstanding ball skills, returning
this year on a mission to get better in all phases of the game.
While not the most physically imposing of the receivers, senior
Tyler Grisham plays much bigger than his 5-11, 180-pound
frame. He was second on the team with 60 receptions for 653
yards and four touchdowns, while leading the team in knockdown
blocks among non-linemen. A dangerous player after the catch, he
does all the little things well and is one of the most
underrated players on this roster.
At 5-10 and 185 pounds, junior Jacoby Ford is one of the
most exciting and fastest all-purpose players in the country, a
blur on offense and special teams. A star on the track team,
he’s still somewhat raw as a receiver, but far too explosive to
keep on the sidelines. Before breaking an ankle in October, he’d
caught 17 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns, rushed for
172 yards, and amassed 319 yards as a return man.
Junior Michael Palmer has emerged as the team’s best
receiving threat at tight end, catching 13 passes for 128 yards
and a touchdown. A big target at 6-5 and 245 pounds, he has soft
hands and is improving as a run blocker.
Projected Top Reserves: Behind Kelly is his
protégé, sophomore Xavier Dye, who’s coming off a
breakthrough spring. Well ahead of Kelly at similar stages in
their careers, he’s 6-5 and 205 pounds, combining a physical
presence with the athleticism and footwork to really take off in
his second year.
By walk-on standards, 6-2, 190-pound sophomore Terrance Ashe
has been a very pleasant surprise for the program, playing
on 109 snaps and catching seven passes in his first season. The
backup to Grisham, he’ll letter again this fall and contend for
a starting spot in 2009.
Sophomore Brian Linthicum laid the groundwork for a
bright future by catching 11 passes for 76 and three touchdowns,
a school-record for first-year tight ends. At 6-4 and 235
pounds, he’s a skilled pass-catcher who also had 30 knockdowns
as a blocker.
Watch Out For ... Ford to keep blossoming. Now that
he’s healthy again, the staff will be inventing ways to get the
ball in his hands, preferably in space. Before breaking his
ankle, he was just starting to tap into all of his potential, a
process that’ll continue in earnest this September.
Strength: Diversity of talent. More than just
talented, the Clemson receivers also complement each other very
well. Kelly and Dye are the skyscrapers. Ford is the gamebreaker.
Grisham is the possession guy and the most polished receiver of
Weakness: Proven backups. It’s a minor detail, but
after Dye, the receivers become pedestrian in a hurry. Although
the redshirt and incoming freshmen have high ceilings, it’s
unreasonable to expect too much from them at this early stage.
Outlook: With Cullen Harper back throwing to these
guys, the Clemson passing game is set up to break a bunch of
records for a second straight year. Kelly has his sights set on
next April’s first round, but will get lots of help from
Grisham, Ford, and Dye.
Projected Starters: If the offense stumbles at
all, it’ll probably have something to do with the play of the
line. Three starters need to be replaced, including All-ACC
first teamers Barry Richardson and Chris McDuffie. The anchor of
the unit will be junior C Thomas Austin, who started four
games at right guard and eight at center a year ago. Versatile
and among the strongest players on the team, he led all Tigers
with 95 knockdowns and will keep getting better as he gets more
time at the pivot.
In terms of seniority and experience, junior RG Barry
Humphries is next in line, starting seven games a year ago,
five at center and two at right guard. Second to Austin with
86.5 knockdowns, the 6-3, 295-pounder has terrific upper body
strength and the feet to dominate as a run blocker, but needs to
do a better of containing pass rushers.
On the opposite side, 6-4, 305-pound junior Jamarcus Grant
exited spring with a lead at left guard. Although he
lettered in each of the last two seasons, his experience is
limited and his pass protection skills will be tested. At his
best on running plays, his high school team rarely put the ball
in the air.
From left to right, the new tackles are expected to be junior
Cory Lambert and sophomore Chris Hairston. After
tutoring behind Richardson and lettering in each of the last two
seasons, Lambert is ready to step into the lineup at a key
position for the passing game. He’s a 6-6, 310-pound former top
recruit who could wind up being shifted to the right side.
The shooting star of the line is Hairston, another 6-6,
310-pound bookend with the reach, footwork, and athleticism to
eventually be an all-conference performer and an NFL prospect.
He played very well against Auburn in last year’s bowl game, and
could wind up being a pillar at left tackle if he puts in the
time and effort in the offseason. A late-bloomer, he was almost
headed to South Carolina State of the FCS before Clemson came
through with an offer.
Projected Top Reserves: Although senior 6-3,
305-pound Bobby Hutchinson is getting pushed for playing
time by talented redshirt freshman Wilson Norris, his
experience and versatility are assets coveted by the second
team. He earned a couple of letters and played on 174 snaps last
year providing depth at guard and center.
At left guard, redshirt freshman David Smith is putting
up a fight for the spot currently held by Grant. While he still
needs work with his assignments, he’s a nice athlete at 6-5 and
295 pounds, and battles from whistle-to-whistle. He held the
starting job for a time in the spring, so he’s not far removed
from the top of the pecking order.
One of the more interesting developments in the offseason was
the move of former defensive tackle Jock McKissic to left
tackle, where he’s currently backing up Lambert. While there’s
plenty of learning to be done, he has the benefit of being a
6-7, 300-pound linemen with 13 games of starting experience to
Watch Out For ... the incoming recruits. Tommy Bowden
cleaned up on the offensive line in February, which could begin
paying dividends right away. Antoine McClain, Kenneth
Page, Dalton Freeman, and Matt Sanders were
all nationally-ranked recruits who’ll have a shot in August to
crack a fluid two-deep.
Strength: Austin. While change and uncertainty are
the themes of this year’s line, Austin brings a much-needed
element of stability to the unit. He played well after moving
from guard, and should be even better in his second season
making the snaps.
Weakness: Starting experience. There are plenty of
talented linemen on the roster, but precious few with extensive
résumés. For this unit to gel and even excel, it’ll need
multiple blockers to overcome a shortage of game
experience…preferably before the opener versus Alabama.
Outlook: The key to this group hasn’t put on pads
in years. Offensive line coach Brad Scott has just a few more
months to take a bunch of quality linemen and coach them into a
cohesive, synchronized unit. He has the talent on hand to get it
done, but the Tigers could have problems early on opening holes
for the backs and keeping QB Cullen Harper upright.