10 Keys to 10 Wins: #3

For the first time since 2003, the Clemson football team will play a 12-game regular season schedule. And for the first time in a long time, Tiger fans are realistically talking about what it will take to get back to the 10-win plateau for the first time since 1990.

"This is again a very challenging schedule," said head coach Tommy Bowden. "We will face seven teams that won at least seven games last year, including two of the top teams in the ACC within our first three games, both on the road. Plus, we have to go to Virginia Tech, who won more games than any other ACC team last year."

While it's true the Tigers won't have to face Miami and Texas A&M this year, the team will face its fair share of challenges, including road games at Florida State and Boston College in two of the first three games of the year and playing 11 consecutive weeks to open the season.

"That is a positive if you get on a roll, like we did in 2000 (when Clemson played the first 10 weeks of the season), but it can be a negative if you run into injury problems," said Bowden.

So what will it take to win the ACC's Atlantic Division, challenge for a BCS berth and win 10 games for the first time in 15 years?

Today CUTigers continues our 10-part series, taking a look at what must happen in 2006 to get the football program to the proverbial "next level."

#10: No Slip-ups
#9: More Mr. Clutch
#8: Punt Team Improvement
#7: Freshmen Must be Ready
#6: Offensively, Open It Up
#5: Adams, Davis Must Remain Healthy
#4: One Loss Doesn't Kill the Season

#3: Strong Cornerback Play
No one can question the athleticism displayed by Duane Coleman and C.J. Gaddis. Both players are highly skilled, and both players have the potential to do a lot of great things at the position.

However, neither player has significant game day experience as a starting cornerback.

Just a year ago at this time, Gaddis was the starting "cat" safety and Coleman was a second team running back. Now, entering the 2006 season, the two find themselves on the first team as cornerbacks.

The good news for Coleman is that made three starts at the position last year and was more than respectable with his play. Overall, he recorded 35 tackles, with 21 of those coming during his three starts, including nine in the 35-14 win over Florida State when he was Clemson's top tackler.

For Gaddis, he has been in the secondary for the last two years after arriving at Clemson as a quarterback, so he isn't making a drastic move.

"It's not necessarily less responsibility, but it's less thinking," Gaddis said of moving to cornerback from safety. "You don't have to come up on the run so much and know where to sit at, in particular. You've got a job and you do it, which is why I like the corner. It's more of an instinct thing than a thinking thing."

The bad news is that both players must demonstrate more consistency, particularly Gaddis.

Often called the top pure athlete on campus, Gaddis can deliver earth-shattering hits but has had problems at times in coverage situations.

A strong pass rush should aid new corners Duane Coleman and C.J. Gaddis this year.
Further complicating matters is the fact that former defensive back standouts Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge, two of the most consistent players the Tigers have had in recent memory, have moved on to the NFL.

"It's on me and Duane and we know that," Gaddis said. "But it's not like we are stepping into a completely new situation. We both have confidence and we both know we can get the job done."

Backing up Gaddis and Coleman will be senior Sergio Gilliam, sophomore Haydrian Lewis and a wealth of new talent, including Ray Ray McElrathbey, Chris Chancellor, and true freshmen Crezdon Butler and Byron Maxwell.

All players should be aided by a strong pass rush, featuring bandit end Gaines Adams, end Phillip Merling, and tackles Rashaad Jackson and Dorrell Scott.

And don't forget the ACC isn't necessarily a pass-happy league of late. Four teams on Clemson's 2006 schedule (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and N.C. State) averaged less than 200 yards per game through the air last year, and eight teams in the ACC were ranked 57th or lower out of 117 Division I-A teams.

Still, with so many new players stepping into major roles throughout the secondary, if the Tigers want to get 10 wins, they'll need Duane Coleman and C.J. Gaddis to step up their play throughout the season.

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