Clemson University

Clemson staff must fill void left by Spiller, Ford

Clemson running back Andre Ellington (23) races 55 yards for a TD against Coastal Carolina during the 3rd quarter Saturday, October 31, 2009 at Clemson's Memorial Stadium.
Clemson running back Andre Ellington (23) races 55 yards for a TD against Coastal Carolina during the 3rd quarter Saturday, October 31, 2009 at Clemson's Memorial Stadium.

CLEMSON - Filling the hole left by C.J. Spiller is the biggest challenge facing Clemson football coaches entering spring practice.

One of four starters Clemson loses from an offense that made strides in its first year under coordinator Billy Napier, Spiller tilted the table by his mere presence. He accounted for 51 percent of the team's rushing yardage, 35 percent of its all-purpose yardage and 31 percent of its scoring.

"I don't think you do," said Napier when asked if Spiller can be replaced. "It's one of those things that, 25, 30 years from now, we'll still be talking about him."

With a first-year coach and rookie offensive coordinator - and Spiller - Clemson developed a reputation for versatility, balance and quick scoring strikes.

"When you lose a guy like C.J., that's a big lick," running backs coach Andre Powell said.

An analysis of the Tigers' offense in advance of spring practice beginning March 7:

QUARTERBACK

Never say "never," but Napier believes that regardless of what happens during baseball season, Kyle Parker will be back at quarterback this fall and next. Parker passed for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first season as the starter, and Clemson coaches believe the best is to come.

"I anticipate maybe after next year's football season, that's when the true decision comes," Napier said of whether Parker will decide to pursue a pro baseball career. "I think it would be a shock to me if he didn't play football this year."

The curiosity this spring as Parker shuttles between sports will be whether freshman Tajh Boyd makes the best of his opportunity to prepare for life after Parker.

"He's going to benefit from Kyle missing some practices," Napier said. "This is Tajh's time to learn, this is his time to be a sponge."

Senior Michael Wade, who fashioned a role as a valuable special teams player last season and could play quarterback in a pinch, will spend time on defense this spring, opening the door for walk-on quarterbacks Donny McElveen and Taylor Ogle.

RUNNING BACK

Andre Ellington resembles Spiller in size and style. He averaged nearly 8 yards a carry and had a knack for slithering through small holes.

Jamie Harper is bigger, stronger and maybe faster than Spiller, though not as quick. Powell said Harper might be the smartest player he's known, which should serve freshman Roderick McDowell well as he learns the offense. McDowell is smaller than the others but faster - but not as fast as Spiller.

"We probably won't catch as many wheel routes for touchdowns this year," Powell said. "When C.J. got in the open, he would score. I don't foresee us doing that as often."

RECEIVERS

By September, there may be 10 receivers competing for playing time. Receivers coach Jeff Scott must begin to identify his playmakers from seven holdovers that collectively caught 42 passes last season.

Jacoby Ford, who will join Spiller in the NFL next fall, caught 56.

Seniors Xavier Dye and Terrence Ashe and junior Marquan Jones are atop the depth chart, with Brandon Clear, Brandon Ford, Jaron Brown and Bryce McNeal on their tails.

Brown and McNeal show the most promise, but three freshmen arrive in July with the potential to push the veterans.

TIGHT END

Sophomore Dwayne Allen and junior Chad Diehl are the only tight ends with experience, so freshmen could play a major role. Senior Michael Palmer set school records for receiving by a tight end - records Palmer believes Allen will break. Diehl, a bruising blocker, needs to improve his ball skills. Beyond them, Sam Cooper and Victor Beasley can't arrive soon enough.

LINE

There is only one hole, but replacing Thomas Austin should make for an interesting spring.

Left tackle Chris Hairston, center Dalton Freeman, right guard Antoine McClain and right tackle Landon Walker are the returning starters.

Mason Cloy, the designated incumbent at left guard, sustained a broken leg in the ACC championship game, underwent surgery and will not practice this spring. Junior David Smith, probably the team's most powerful blocker, emerged as the third-best tackle but will work at left guard again as Cloy rehabs.

Sophomore Matt Sanders will receive a crash course at guard and center, redshirt freshman Brandon Thomas will do the same at left tackle, and ditto Phil Price at right tackle.

Price has put on 25 pounds to get to 280 since being shifted from tight end last season, and early enrollee Kalon Davis has dropped about 15 from 370 since he arrived. "He'll never be a lean 320," line coach Brad Scott said.

The best story could be walk-on Tyler Fowler, a raw, 6-foot-6, 335-pounder.

After looking at the schedule and seeing Auburn, Miami and North Carolina in consecutive weeks, Scott said, "We're going to have to be pretty good pretty early."

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