CLEMSON — For the untrained eye, it might be tough pulling something significant from Clemson’s spring game, set for a 4 p.m. start at Memorial Stadium.
In interest of competition, Dabo Swinney has split the teams evenly — for example, tailbacks Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington will be on opposing rosters, with No. 3 back Roderick McDowell switching sides every third series.
The game will be televised live on CSS in the Southeast (and on ESPN3.com outside it), with re-airs all summer long. That means, in Swinney’s words, that the gameplan will be “pretty vanilla — we just want to see them compete.”
That said, you can still take a few key things from your last glimpse at the Tigers until their 2010 season opener with North Texas.
Here are five things to watch today:
HOW WILL TAJH BOYD HANDLE THE SPOTLIGHT?
The highly-touted quarterback logged serious time with the first unit this spring thanks to Kyle Parker’s baseball schedule (and a short bout with back pain). Like Parker last spring, he is a redshirt freshman, but he did struggle at times with timing and decision-making — which is understandable considering Parker went through an extra spring practice as an early enrollee.
If Parker leaves this summer to pursue a baseball career (entirely possible since Baseball America projects him as a borderline first-round pick), the offense will be Boyd’s. A strong effort today would ease some fears entering summer.
WHICH RECEIVERS WILL STAND OUT?
With Jacoby Ford’s departure, there are plenty of catches to go around in the offense. Rising senior Xavier Dye has impressed this spring, as has sophomore Jaron Brown, and, at times, redshirt freshman Bryce McNeal. However, it appears that the depth chart is just as jumbled as it was to start the spring, with all seven receivers still in contention for major playing time entering preseason practice. A few big catches today, of course, wouldn’t hurt perception in coaches’ eyes going into offseason workouts.
WHO CAN HOLD THE LINE?
Swinney praised his offensive line depth Wednesday, saying he had six players he was confident in (the starting five, plus guard Mason Cloy, recovering from a broken ankle suffered in the ACC title game). That’s three times as many as he had last spring, but Swinney and OL coach Brad Scott are looking for more. Swinney said backup tackles Brandon Thomas and Phillip Price “need big summers,” as do guards Kalon Davis (thrust onto the second team following Wilson Norris’ ACL tear), Tyler Fowler and center Matt Sanders. The lines will be split today, mixing first and second strings and giving the second-teamers a much-needed competitive experience.
WHICH LINEBACKERS WILL IMPRESS KEVIN STEELE?
The veteran defensive coordinator shook up his linebackers this spring, moving 2009 starting middleman Brandon Maye to weakside and elevating redshirt freshman Corico Hawkins in the middle. Maye is currently batting with Tig Willard for playing time there. With senior Scotty Cooper out with a groin injury, redshirt freshman Quandon Christian and junior Daniel Andrews have the spotlight at strongside linebacker. They’ll all have opportunities to make plays today, too.
PAGING C.J. SPILLER’S REPLACEMENTS…
Consensus All-America and certain first-round NFL pick C.J. Spiller will be in attendance today, picking up two awards. But the real action will be on the field, where Harper, Ellington and McDowell show how well they can replace him. Harper has been one of the biggest standouts of spring; Swinney called him a “workhorse” and running backs coach Andre Powell called him one of the smartest players he’s ever coached. Harper has power and speed, and Ellington has the burst that fans loved Spiller for. McDowell is a smaller version of Ellington. No one person can replace Spiller, but Swinney is hoping this trio can approximate it.