What a Difference a Year Makes (Part I)

Tiger fans have proven that they have short memories as the harsh words that were spoken this time last year have been all but forgotten. Well you might want to cover your ears as we go back in time to compare where the team was coming out of the spring last year to this year's team that is now staring directly into the long summer months.

Coming out of spring practice this year, coaches and fans alike have shared concerns about positions such as offensive and defensive tackle, not to mention special teams.

Today, we take a look back at we were saying a year ago coming out of spring practice, and compare it to what we've seen just recently from the practice fields.

Wide Receivers
Spring 2003 - Spring 2003 started without a position coach for the wide receivers. Not only did the group initially lack a coach, but they had also gained a reputation for a lack of consistency, and some were even using the dreaded word, "overrated".

Derrick Hamilton had a great spring and Kevin Youngblood looked to be more confident after playing cautiously the year before.

Airese Currie was the target of much dissatisfaction from Tiger fans as he developed the Currie reputation of having stone hands. Although he showed consistency catching the ball during the spring, fans took a wait and see attitude with Currie not wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt based on a few good practices.

Although fans were initially puzzled at the hiring of Dabo Swinney who had been out of coaching for two years, they quickly became enamored with his great work ethic, and his contagious optimism.

Spring 2004 – Dabo Swinney is looking to replace three starters with guys who have little or no experience. Kelvin Grant showed signs of greatness this spring. He was so good that this writer thinks he could be the best receiver that we've seen at Clemson.

Fans are also cautiously optimistic about former quarterback Chansi Stuckey. He showed big play ability this spring, but he has not even played a whole game at wide receiver in his career.

Airese Currie proved that he can be a go-to guy in 2003. This spring it's not Currie's hands that people question but the rest of his body. We know what a healthy Currie can do, the question is can he stay healthy? It is very hard to feel good about the H position because not many people believe he will be able to make it through the whole season.

Offensive Line
Spring 2003 – Along with the defensive backfield, the offensive line presented the most question marks coming out of spring practice. The unit returned 2 starters in guard Cedric Johnson and tackle Greg Walker. The other tackle William Henry also tallied five career starts.

There were plenty of concerns as Clemson looked to start a walk-on at center, a freshmen at guard and depth was paper thin, not to mention that Johnson looked to be too big and too slow to be effective. And this was the unit that had to protect our only quarterback?

Spring 2004 – Coming out of the spring the offensive line has a rock solid two deep rotation in the interior. All three starters have an adequate backup that can rotate with little loss of production.

The tackles are a different story. Roman Fry received good experience and even started once last year, but even he knows the importance of a good backup.

"Using that 10-man rotation has been big," said Fry when referring to last year's success. Clemson coaches just need to find someone that can rotate right now.

At the other tackle is Marion Dukes who is the least experienced of the group, yet is also the most talented long term. The coaches will hope that Dukes can learn quickly as his success will be vital to the unit's success this fall.

Running Backs
Spring 2003M – Clemson fans held out hope that Yusef Kelly would pick up where he left off in the 4th quarter of the USC game in 2002. They also could not wait to see highly publicized Duane Coleman finally on the field. In the end however, it was Reggie Merriweather that stole the show, leaving everyone not to know what to think about the running back situation going into the summer.

Spring 2004 – Running back is one the deepest positions on the team. Duane Coleman leads this group after a great spring in which he showed more patience and an ability to make defenders miss.

All three running backs, including Merriweather, will likely see significant time this fall. And with all this depth, certainly it goes without saying that Clemson fans are anxious to see the 2000 yard mark toppled in year 2004.

Overall, there is much more optimism about the offense coming out of the spring in 2004 and for good reason. The group looks to be stronger at quarterback, running back, tight end, and on the offensive line.

And even though the wide receivers were somewhat of a question mark with the losses of Kevin Youngblood, Derrick Hamilton, and Tony Elliott, it's important to remember who's throwing these new guys the ball.

And oh yeah, those guys have got some talent too.

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