Who will replace Airese Currie, Leroy Hill, and Justin Miller?
One of the biggest questions entering spring practice, seemingly every year, is 'who will step up and fill the roles of the top players lost from last year's team?'
Certainly, this year is no different.
While many of last year's top players on the Clemson football team will return to try and improve on a 6-5 record, there are also plenty of holes to fill.
Defensively, the Tigers will have to find a way to replace two of their most productive players of a year ago. Justin Miller, a standout cornerback and kick returner, declared for the NFL draft, and Leroy Hill, the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year, has used up his eligibility and is also eyeing a career in the professional ranks.
Both players were instrumental for obvious reasons, but the bottom line is that both could be counted on to make big plays.
Miller singlehandily kept Clemson in the Florida State game last year, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. He also became the first Clemson player to lead the nation in kickoff return yardage since Terrance Roulhac in 1986.
"He made a great contribution to our program as a defensive back and as the best kick returner I have ever coached," said Tommy Bowden. "Some of his records will be hard to break."
With Miller gone, seniors Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge will undoubtedly emerge the leaders of the defensive backs this year, while C.J. Gaddis, Sergio Gilliam, Brandon Croley, and Chris Clemons will all get their crack at playing time.
Gaddis, in particular is the one to watch.
The former quarterback figures to play a large role somewhere in the defensive backfield, either at the starting cornerback spot opposite Hill, or the at free safety position, otherwise known as the "Cat" safety in Vic Koenning's new defensive alignment.
"I think it's my time," Gaddis told CUTigers.com in a recent interview. "Everybody else has had their time, so I'll be ready to step it up and take that job whenever we start."
Meanwhile, the Tigers must also find a way to replace MIKE LB Leroy Hill, who was a tackle for loss machine in each of his last two seasons.
Last year as a senior, Hill recorded 106 total tackles, including 19 for a loss and eight sacks. He had at least one tackle for loss in every game and a streak of 13 straight games with a tackle for loss dating back to 2003.
Anthony Waters and David Dunham will be two names to watch out for to replace Hill. Waters, who continues to develop both physically, and as an emotional leader of the defense, made great strides in the eyes of the coaching staff last season.
Moving into Hill's position would be a position switch for the Lake View native, but he offers the coaching staff more options in terms of athleticism and pure speed.
Offensively, Clemson must find a receiver to step in for Airese Currie, who was truly the only productive wide out of a year ago.
Currie caught 61 passes for 868 yards and two touchdowns last season, while the next most productive receiver, Chansi Stuckey, caught just 25 passes for 280 yards and no scores.
The wide receivers, in general, will be a focus this spring and fall.
With Currie leaving, and with Gerald McCloud (transfer) and Michael Collins (health) no longer playing football at Clemson, there will be a tremendous opportunity for the younger receivers to step into the spotlight.
Obivously, senior Curtis Baham and junior Chansi Stuckey will be two players that will have to step up their game this year. The two combined to catch over 40 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns a year ago.
After that, which player steps up is anybody's guess.
Kelvin Grant has always been a factor in the two deep, but his inconsistent play, especially towards the end of last season, leads one to believe that he may never become the player that he has the potential to be.
Two other players to watch include sophomore La'Donte Harris and redshirt freshman Aaron Kelly. Harris recorded three catches a year ago in a limited role and Kelly offers the Tigers their tallest target, as he stands in at 6-feet-4 inches tall.
Andrew Diomande is another redshirt freshman to watch, however don't be surprised to see one of the current defensive backs moved to the offensive side of the ball.
Sergio Gilliam or Chris Clemons could be candidates to switch positions.
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