Top Three Questions: Offense

Without question, the 2004 season offensively was a nightmare all the way around. The Tigers finished the year ranked 110th out of 117 teams in total offense and 90th in scoring offense.

The good news is there is only one way to go - up.

But even though there's a new coordinator, there are still three very important questions on this side of the ball entering 2005.

1) How will the hiring of new offensive coordinator Rob Spence affect the offense?
Head coach Tommy Bowden has promised to hand over complete control to Spence to see if the "mad scientist" can pump life back into a stagnant offense. And Spence's first order of business is to see if he can help bring senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst back to the form of his sophomore year.

Spence's offense is geared off a lot of play-action callas, where Whitehurst is lined up under center and fakes the handoff to a tailback to freeze the linebackers and defensive line, which in turn will allow him more time to find an open receiver.

However, unlike in previous seasons where Whitehurst tried to throw the ball downfield, Spence's offense is geared toward short, high-percentage passes, thus pulling in the secondary to create more opportunities down field.

In addition, tight ends will be a primary focus of the offense, in terms of both receiving and blocking. And even though Bowden has said in each of the previous three seasons that the running game was going to be used more, in Spence's offense, it really will be.

2) How good or bad will the offensive line be?
Once again, this is an area that should improve from last year, when two walk-ons began 2004 as starters. With three scholarship starters returning from last season in Barry Richardson, Nathan Bennett and Marion Dukes, there is a lot of hope that the unit as a whole will be much improved in 2005. Roman Fry, Dustin Fry and Chip Myrick also return as viable starters with considerable experience.

But is it a good thing to have the same players that struggled during the early stages of 2004 return as starters? It's a little too early to be 100 percent certain, but all indications are that as the year progresses, so to will the skills of the linemen.

It is imperative that the lineman give Whitehurst the time to do what he needs to as the field general. Moreover, if Clemson is to be successful this season, opening up holes for the running backs is a must. Without a solid running game, the design and configuration of Spence's offense won't resemble anything like it's supposed to be.

One thing is certain, defenses will test the line early and often by blitzing nearly every down, just like last season. And until the line proves it can handle the pressure and the defense is burned on big plays, the blitzes won't let up.

The play of the offensive line will be one of the two major factors in what determines the success in 2005.

3) Who's going to catch Whitehurst's passes?
With the graduation of Airese Currie, who caught more than double the amount of passes than anyone else last season, this position rivals the offensive line as far as having the most question marks.

The early answer is that junior Chansi Stuckey, who was second on the team last year with only 25 receptions, will be the go-to guy. However, much of the same things were expected of him last year when he burst onto the scene against Wake Forest in the first game of the season with eight catches for 118 yards.

However, over the next nine games, he disappeared, partly due to injuries, and managed just 10 catches for 94 yards. Putting all hope solely on him could be a major mistake.

Then there's the ever curious Kelvin Grant, who has all the physical tools to be a great receiver, but for one reason or another up this point has lacked the focus to live up to the hype. He had an outstanding spring game, but his big numbers came against second and third string players because he was punished and not allowed to play with the first team because for being late to a class.

There is hope that two incoming freshmen, Tyler Grisham and Rendrick Taylor, as well as redshirt freshman Aaron Kelly, senior Curtis Baham and sophomore La'Donte Harris will provide some reliable hands as well.

Without at least two receivers stepping up and sharing the load, Whitehurst will have the same problem he had last year and won't have anyone to throw to, which is a major reason why he had seven touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

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