After the traditional changes that occur within a team at the end of every season, spring practice signifies the first time the 2005 Clemson Tigers are allowed to begin preparations for the upcoming season.
And being there are a host of new regimes, this year's spring practice will prove to be the beginning of a new phase in Clemson football.
"Different," says senior cornerback Tye Hill when asked to describe how practice has been this spring. "It's been intense, especially the learning curve."
The Clemson secondary will have much to do this spring, replacing two starters, while implementing new strategies of coverage and technique.
"Right now we're just establishing a chemistry," explains Hill. "There has been a lot of changes to the secondary, but I can see so much potential in what we can be as a unit."
Sophomore "cat" safety C.J. Gaddis concurs with Hill, describing the unit's last few days as productive. "There has been a focus on work ethic and being the best you can be," says Gaddis.
Both Hill and Gaddis describe coach Koening's new defense as having a "run to the ball" mentality.
Among the other changes to the secondary are the losses of Justin Miller and Travis Pugh, two players who were very instrumental in success of the defensive backfield last season.
Obviously, filling those holes will be a major concern for the group this year.
"Yeah, we have two new members in the line-up but everybody's athletic and working hard so right now we're just focused on becoming better football players," says Hill.
Building on Hill's assertion, Gaddis sneaks in a few goals for the season. "It'll be hard, but leading the nation in interceptions is something you always want to do. We're in the ACC so if we play as well as we can, the opportunity is there."
Another major change is the removal of John Lovett as the Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs. Lovett was replaced by former Troy defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
When asked about the switch, Hill explains, "Different coach, same intensity."
Like Lovett, Koenning seems to be a coach focused on coaching the fundamentals of the game but with a fiery attitude toward tackling. He's a coach concerned with having a fast defense that gets to the ball. In the secondary, he has implemented a "cat safety," described by Gaddis as a flying free safety.
"The position allows me to sometimes freelance," said Gaddis. "So learning my responsibilities and the tendency of other teams, compounded with this freedom, can lead to me hopefully having some big plays for the defense."
Both Hill and Gaddis say Koenning's philosophy is for the defense to create more turnovers and get more hats to the ball. When those two goals are accomplished, it obviously is going to lead to success.
Koenning himself has emphasized the need for more turnovers and big plays from the Tigers' defense this year.
At Troy last season, Koenning's defense finished second nationally with 32 forced turnovers. He also had two players that ranked among the top 16 nationally in interceptions.
If the Tigers are going to have defensive success in 2005, they'll have to duplicate some of those impressive numbers- especially the interceptions.
And it all starts with the secondary, where a combination of familiar faces and new names will hope to lead the way.
TOURE FRANCIS: Secondary Building Foundation
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