2008 Clemson Preview - Offense
Clemson WR Aaron Kelly
Clemson WR Aaron Kelly
Posted Apr 21, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Clemson Tiger Offense

Clemson Tigers

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Clemson Preview | 2008 Clemson Offense
- 2008 Clemson Defense | 2008 Clemson Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Clemson Preview | 2006 CFN Clemson Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
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

Star of the offense: Senior RB James Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT Cory Lambert
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 line


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 offseason.
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 2009.
Rating: 9

Running Backs

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 man.

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.
Rating: 10


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 the group.
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.
Rating: 8

Offensive Line

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 his name.      

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.
Rating: 6