Clemson University

Younger Tigers look to get head start on 2010

Clemson linebacker No. 20 Brandon Maye knocks Wake Forest fullback No. 44 Mike Rinfrette  off his feet from behind for a seven yard loss bringing up fourth down and a punt during the second quarter as Clemson defeats Wake Forest 38-3 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C., Oct. 17, 2009.
Clemson linebacker No. 20 Brandon Maye knocks Wake Forest fullback No. 44 Mike Rinfrette off his feet from behind for a seven yard loss bringing up fourth down and a punt during the second quarter as Clemson defeats Wake Forest 38-3 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C., Oct. 17, 2009.

CLEMSON - Having an extra week devoted to ACC championship preparations - coupled with last week's break for exams - slashed the amount of extra time Clemson has had to spend priming its young players.

The Tigers are scheduled to use only 10 of their 15 allotted bowl practices before the Dec. 27 Music City Bowl against Kentucky.

Seven of those workouts are to conclude with a 20-minute "JV" period, during which the redshirts and inexperienced young players will get position instruction and competitive drill work that they would not otherwise receive.

Here is a look at five players who stand to benefit the most from postseason practices:

LB BRANDON MAYE

The sophomore middle linebacker feels he has unfairly bore the brunt of criticism for Clemson's defensive regression the past two games, so he has something to prove.

Considering his and the team's difficulties slowing variations of the quarterback read option, Kentucky will likely continue its heavy use of the "wildcat" package. Maye, who is responsible for audibling the defense into proper sets based on formations and situation, has spent extra time working with coordinator Kevin Steele this week installing what Steele called a "simpler application."

QB TAJH BOYD

It was during this developmental period last year that Kyle Parker turned coaches' heads and began his run to the starting quarterback job.

Boyd, a highly touted freshman, garnered rave reviews during August scrimmages before heading to the scout squad as a redshirt.

Next year's backup job is Boyd's by default, and the stretch between now and spring practice will determine how much he challenges Parker for playing time.

WR BRYCE MCNEAL

It appears the decision to redshirt the highly regarded 6-foot-1 receiver from Minnesota was the wise move, even with the team's lack of receiver depth this season.

A semester in the weight room has added some of the size and strength desired, as McNeal has gone from 169 to 183 pounds and now can bench press 135 pounds 22 times instead of three.

The Tigers will be in dire need of pass-catching playmakers next season after Jacoby Ford leaves them without a clear-cut No. 1 receiver.

McNeal supposedly explodes out of his cuts better than anyone in the receiving corps, but he will need seasoning in the offensive scheme first before he can be looked at as a candidate for the main rotation.

LBS CORICO HAWKINS AND JONATHAN WILLARD

The freshman Hawkins (5-10, 230) and redshirt freshman Willard (6-2, 215) began earning meaningful, albeit sparse, snaps toward season's end as the backups at middle and weak-side positions, respectively.

Hawkins, though, has spent time this week training at weak-side, as he and Willard are expected to battle for the 2010 starting spot vacated by senior Kavell Conner. Hawkins has impressed coaches with his football IQ and is stout against the run; Willard is rangy and has shown a nose for the ball.

As thin as the linebacker group is otherwise, both will be counted on significantly next season. For that matter, might as well add redshirting strongside backer Quandon Christian among those who must be prepared for contributing roles.

Extra points

Senior running back C.J. Spiller has been named the winner of the Banks McFadden Award as the top college football player in South Carolina by the Greenville Touchdown Club. ... One of Dabo Swinney's former Alabama teammates, Siran Stacy, spoke to the team Thursday about coping with adversity. Two years ago, Stacy's wife and four of their five children were killed when a drunk driver struck the vehicle containing the entire family about a mile from their home.

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