CLEMSON — When he signed with Clemson three years ago, Justin Parker was hailed as one of the top 15 linebacker prospects in America.
Thanks to stiff competition and a tough learning curve, it hasn’t happened. Parker has only 80 career snaps and 19 tackles, and faced a tough road to significant playing time this fall.
An injury just might give his career the boost it needs. Parker has struggled with a lingering groin injury, and appears headed for a mid-career redshirt.
Dabo Swinney said after Friday’s first practice that he hopes to redshirt the junior linebacker this fall, giving him two more years of eligibility beginning in 2013.
“We’re going to try and steal a year back with him,” Swinney said. “He’s probably going to be limited for a while. Now he’s not getting the reps, and he’s got a lot of competition there. We really feel he has a chance to be a great player. He’s one of the guys we were most excited about this spring.”
Swinney feels Parker can follow the career track of former defensive end Kourtnei Brown, who entered as a highly-touted prospect but saw minimal playing time in his first two seasons. He redshirted before his junior season and played a significant reserve role over his final two seasons. He’ll be remembered for scoring touchdowns on interception and fumble returns against North Carolina, the first CU player to score a pair of defensive touchdowns since 1954. He’s currently in the San Francisco 49ers training camp, battling for a roster spot as an undrafted free agent.
“(Parker) was a guy we should have redshirted and didn’t,” Swinney said. “We thought we made the right decision at the time and didn’t play him as much as we wanted to.”
The condition is expected to hamper Parker for a significant period.
“It’s very painful, and that’s why he can’t compete,” Swinney said. “When he can’t compete it’s hard to get on the field.”
A pair of fellow defenders fared much better in their return from knee surgeries Friday. Swinney praised senior safety Rashard Hall and sophomore linebacker Tony Parker for their progress in the first practice.
Hall missed spring practice following surgery to repair a knee problem which hampered him throughout 2011, and Steward is coming off his second ACL surgery in as many years – and knees.
“Both of them looked great,” Swinney said. “I didn’t see any hesitation in either one of them, and I watched quite a bit.”
Hall, Swinney said, is “feeling better than he ever did last year. He’s good, smooth.”
He missed the Wofford game before playing in 12 consecutive games to close the season, finishing with 89 tackles. Swinney said there was no consideration of redshirting him because Hall had already redshirted as a freshman.
“Whatever we got out of him last year was going to be a bonus,” Swinney said.
Steward, a former five-star signee, is playing without braces on either knee.
“What I want to see is some thump and see some explosion out of his hips,” Swinney said. “Last year he was coming out here with a brace on toward end of July. He weighed in at 231 (pounds), he was 240 last year, looks chiseled up. Mentally and physically he’s a lot better than he ever was last year. He’s just got a lot of teaching to do and live reps.”