No longer will the entire wide receiving corps be dominated by true freshmen. No longer will the offense be able to count on the running ability of Woodrow Dantzler to bail them out on 3rd-and-long. "Now, we'll have to distribute Woody's production in the passing game," noted quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain.
The former North Carolina State head coach and Clemson quarterback hit the nail on the head. This is finally the year that this group will either prove their worth in the national spotlight, or fall short of the goal.
With Willie Simmons at the controls, this offense will resort back to the quick passing game that had Tiger fans so excited back in 1999. Provided the offensive line stays healthy, the passes are going to be there this season. All that's needed is someone to step up and consistently catch the football.
And while the loss of Roscoe Crosby to offseason elbow surgery certainly hurts, there are plenty of other players waiting in the wings to prove their worth, and you can start with sophomore Derrick Hamilton.
Hamilton was named as one of the top freshmen in the country by several major media outlets last season. He broke Terry Allen's Clemson freshman record for all-purpose running yards by leading the Tigers in receptions (53) and reception yards (684).
And while players like Airese Currie and Roscoe Crosby garnered the most publicity out of high school in 2001, after a redshirt season, it was Derrick Hamilton who produced the best results on field.
The Dillon native has all the physical tools to be one of the top receivers in the country this season, standing in at over 6'4, and running somewhere in the 4.5 - 4.6 range in the 40. Simply put, Derrick Hamilton makes plays- and that's what puts him above everyone else headed into the fall.
Starting along side the redshirt sophomore will be Airese Currie.
Currie was voted the most improved wide receiver of spring practice, as he led the offense with 3 catches for almost 100 yards in the Orange and White game. Currie's big asset is his legitimate 4.4 speed, as he commands the respect of the defense on every play with that deep threat potential.
And while you could make a case that the Columbia native got off to a slow start his freshmen year, he really turned it on towards the end of the season, culminating in a 54-yard scoring strike from Woodrown Dantzler in the South Carolina game.
With a year of experience under his belt, Currie might be the most dangerous receiver the Tigers have entering the 2002 season.
The return of Kevin Youngblood should also be a much-needed spark in 2002. The Jacksonville native was named Rookie of the Year on offense in 2000, bringing in 13 passes for a 17.3 yard average. He was also singled out as "the next Rod Gardner" by most experts headed in the 2001 season, before a broken leg last August shattered those dreams.
"Right there, that's the future," former Tiger great and current Washington Redskin Rod Gardner said , pointing to Kevin Youngblood early last fall.
Fortunately for Tiger fans, Youngblood looked strong out there on the practice fields this spring, but nevertheless, Tommy Bowden elected to hold him out of the Orange and White game.
"Because of the rain we went four straight days this week and his leg just bothered him a bit and we didn't want to risk it," said Bowden.
Youngblood is a weapon, but his effectiveness will be tested early this fall. It's not easy to come back from a broken leg, but so far so good. Stay tuned.
The wild card returning next season may be J.J. McKelvey. Most fans remember McKelvey for the crucial 63-yard touchdown reception he brought in on 4th-and-long last season at Georgia Tech. Fortunately, he showed more of the same type of game this spring.
At 6-feet, 4-inches tall, McKelvey is similar to Youngblood, in that he's tall, and he can out-jump almost anybody on the field. Both Charlie Whitehurst and Willie Simmons took note of that fact, routinely trying to use McKelvey's height to their advantage in almost every single scrimmage earlier this year.
J.J. has also become more of a vocal leader on the team, which could be a contributing factor in the senior from Moncks Corner getting more playing time in 2002. Last season, he was third on the Tigers in receptions with 29 for 402 yards and he also tied for the team lead in touchdown catches with four.
Those numbers will likely increase across the board this season, provided he continues to show a good work ethic and quality leadership this August.
Jackie Robinson also figures to be in the mix once again this season. The Orangeburg native is a two-year returning starter, but he suffered through an injury plagued 2001 season- missing two games with a broken jaw, another game with a shoulder problem and a pulled hamstring. He finished the year with just 11 catches for less than 100 yards and no touchdowns.
While Robinson brings some quality experience to the table, he may end up being the odd man out of the equation this season. And that, of course, brings us to the this year's incoming freshmen.
Two, maybe even three first year players have the opportunity for playing time in 2002. Freshmen Kelvin Grant and Tymere Zimmerman are two of the top athletes to ever come out of the state of South Carolina, while Gerald McCloud is another vastly underrated prospect from the Jacksonville area.
Zimmerman orginally commited to the Tigers back in 2000, but he ended up at Fork Union Prep after failing to get the required test scores on his SAT. The former Marlboro County standout will step onto campus this fall and immediately be considered as one of the top athletes on the team.
At 6'4, 205 lbs, Zimmerman possesses all the physical tools, as well as the intangibles to become a potential All-American peformer sometime in the next two-to-three seasons. Yes, he's that good.
Meanwhile, Kelvin Grant was considered by many to be the top wide receiver prospect in South Carolina last year. He has great hands, good speed, and a fantastic frame for a wide receiver. His potential is unlimited, and his skills are strong enough to warrant a hard look at significant playing time.
McCould was a Mr. Do-Everything player for Class A Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville last season. The staff likes him as a wide receiver, even though he played safety and running back last season for the Apaches. He too could avoid a redshirt.
Other players that could see some action are Ronnie Thomas and Tony Elliott. Elliott had a productive spring, burning Kevin Johnson several times in one of the early scrimmages, and Thomas was also listed on the two deep depth chart back in March.
Thomas, who red-shirted the 2001 season, is currently listed as a second-team wide receiver. As a freshman, he played in 98 snaps, and he saw action in 8 of 12 games. He also was a teammate of Willie Simmons in high school, where he caught 37 touchdown passes from the signal caller.
Thomas could be a surprise performer this season at wide receiver, provided he's able to get enough playing time to contribute.
|The Wide Receivers|