Spring Ball Preview: Wide Receiver (Part I)

The Clemson Tigers suffered two surprising blows at wide receiver during the last 8 weeks with the loss of Mike McIntosh to Florida and Derrick Hamilton to the NFL. Where does that leave this unit heading into spring ball?

2004 has been anything but kind to Clemson wide receivers' coach Dabo Swinney.

First, he lost his top returning wide out this fall in Derrick Hamilton when Hamilton elected to enter the NFL Draft.

Then he lost Mike McIntosh to the Florida Gators, as Ron Zook pulled off a small coup by convincing the Jacksonville native to come to Gainesville, instead of honoring his verbal commitment to Clemson on signing day.

For most teams, those two losses alone would raise serious questions headed into spring ball. After all, Hamilton led the Tigers in receiving yardage and touchdowns last year, and McIntosh would have likely cracked the two deep as a true freshman this fall.

Unfortunately, the losses of Hamilton and McIntosh only tells part of the story.

Clemson must also find a way to replace Kevin Youngblood and Tony Elliott, who have both used up their eligibility and finshed out their careers.

And when you add it all up, in losing Hamilton, Youngblood, and Elliott, the Tigers must somehow account for the combined 155 receptions, 2209 yards, and 13 touchdowns that will be missing from the line-up this year.

Obviously, for the first time in a long time, the two-deep depth chart at wide receiver probably won't look anything like it did in years past.

"We've got some changes coming," said Coach Swinney. "But that's okay. I'm not worried about the guys we've got, because they've all got talent. They've all got ability. We just need to get them out there on the field and let them go to work."

Leading the way for the Tigers this spring will be Airese Currie, who brought in 43 catches for 560 yards and 4 touchdowns last year.

Currie proved his worth as a wide out last year, catching a team-record 12 passes for 133 yards and 1 touchdown against Middle Tennessee State. Over the course of his junior year, he showed that his game is more than just running up the field as fast as he can on fly patterns. He also has good hands, and runs his routes as precise as any receiver on the team.

Looking back, he was actually on his way to being the most productive wide out at Clemson last year. That is, until the injury bug caught up with him against Maryland.

Currie suffered a high ankle sprain that fateful afternoon in College Park, and never truly recovered the rest of the season.

Airese Currie's health will be of prime importance this year with the loss of Derrick Hamilton and Kevin Youngblood.
It prompted Tommy Bowden to make the statement that sometimes his "track guys" are the most sensitive to injury. "They're high maintenance, those track guys," Bowden said during a press conference last season. "They're like a Cadillac or a Lexus, and those types of machines. You've got to send them overseas to get them fixed."

All jokes aside, Currie is clearly the Tigers' go-to receiver headed into spring practice, and it will be imperative for him to remain healthy if he's going to live up to expectations during his senior year.

"My ankle is fine now," said Currie. "It's no longer a concern, but it bothered me most of last year, but it didn't in the Peach Bowl. I'm just glad that's all behind me."

Outside of Currie, the questions surrounding this unit really start popping up.

Curtis Baham and Kelvin Grant will return this year as guys that no longer will be looked upon as role players. Naturally, Baham will move into the role vacated by Elliott, and Grant will try to fill the shoes of Youngblood.

"It's our time to try and step-up," said Baham. "We'll be depended on more this year, and that's more than fine by me. That's what I'm here for. I'm ready for whatever they throw at me."

Baham brought in 22 balls for 241 yards and a touchdown last year while Grant caught just 12 balls for 79 yards and a score.

Grant in particular has been one player on this team who hasn't quite lived up to expectations.

Perhaps he reached a low-point last year when a pass bounced squarely off his face mask and into the hands of Wake Forest defensive back Eric King, who then raced 85-yards for a touchdown and a commanding 21-0 2nd quarter lead for the Demon Deacons. It was a pivatol play that seemed to put the nail in the coffin for the Tigers that dreaded day in Winston-Salem.

But it doesn't stop there. Even from an academic standpoint, it's been a struggle for the Camden native since he arrived on campus just two years ago. Even though he's maintained his eligibility, reports continue surface that he is still walking a fine line in the classroom.

But that's all the bad news.

The good news is that Kelvin Grant still has the natural talent and ability to become one of top wide receivers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. This spring, he'll be given more reps and more instruction than ever before as the coaching staff tries to build his confidence headed into the start of the 2004 season.

Grant, who stands in at just over 6-feet-3 inches tall, will be molded into the role vacated by Kevin Youngblood. He's demonstrated on the practice fields that he can go up and catch the jump ball as well as anybody, now all he has to do, is do it the game.

Sounds easy enough, but for whatever reason, it just hasn't happened yet.

Tomorrow, we will continue our look at the wide receivers, including in-depth analysis of reserves Chansi Stuckey and Gerald McCloud, who have both moved from other positions, as well as Michael Collins, and redshirt freshman Chris Jefferson.

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