CLEMSON - Tajh Boyd is feeling a little lighter these days, and it's not just because Clemson's quarterback depth chart has thinned.
Since enrolling in May, the touted 6-foot-1 freshman has trimmed his body fat from 18 percent to 10 percent while maintaining his weight at nearly 220 pounds.
"I had a little gut when I got here," Boyd said. "Now I'm starting to get my six-pack back."
Bowl preparations are giving Boyd the first chance to flex his muscle in a while.
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Willy Korn's forthcoming transfer has cleared the path for Boyd to inherit the second-string quarterback job this spring, a role many in the program presumed he would win regardless.
The real question has been to what degree the Hampton, Va., native can challenge incumbent Kyle Parker for the starting spot, assuming Parker doesn't leave next summer to pursue a pro baseball career.
Considering the rookie football season Parker had, it would seem a stretch to think Boyd could snatch the job given his only snaps in Clemson's offense came during August scrimmages.
Yet it wasn't until this time a year ago that the coaching staff saw the tools that led to the belief Parker could trump Korn to take the reins this season.
When veteran players were dismissed for conditioning at the end of last year's Gator Bowl practices, coach Dabo Swinney elected to withhold the redshirts and young players for position drills they otherwise often missed as scout-teamers.
The dividends reaped from Parker, among others, influenced Clemson to repeat the procedure as it prepares for the Dec. 27 Music City Bowl in Nashville.
Seven of the Tigers' nine bowl practices are to include a 20-minute "JV" period to include position drills as well as competitive drills pitting, for example, receivers vs. defensive backs in pass work.
"It helped Kyle a ton," Swinney said. "It was tremendously helpful for him to go through cadence, procedure, timing and speed of the game. And Tajh has gotten three times the amount of work that Kyle did."
How the staff grooms its young quarterbacks has been a point of emphasis under Swinney. Former offensive coordinator Rob Spence was known to give scarce work to Korn during his tenure, and Parker's first legit practice snaps last year did not occur until Swinney took over.
To that end, Boyd logged substantial time running the third-team offense during August scrimmages. And unlike the other freshman redshirts, he was a member of the travel squad for road games, dressing out and participating in pregame warm-ups.
Offensive coordinator Billy Napier said the biggest aid to Boyd's development has been his inclusion in most of the quarterback meetings, which the scout-squad quarterbacks did not attend previously.
"So he's in a little different place mentally than where Kyle was in last year," Napier said.
Boyd, rated the No. 4 quarterback prospect nationally by Rivals.com a year ago, had considered redshirting a last - but tolerable - resort when he enrolled in May.
But after the fact, he said he has benefited from the process, and it allowed him to rehabilitate his knee after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament last February.
Boyd said he still is trying to regain the speed he had before the injury, but a number of hits from linebacker Kavell Conner during practices has proven to Boyd that the knee can withstand contact.
The most realistic scenario might be for Boyd to earn predetermined situational duty behind Parker next season, but Boyd is not conceding the 2010 starting position.
"He had a great year, but I feel like I can compete as well," Boyd said. "I have to worry about myself. I believe everybody's future is in their own hands."