New Leaders Emerge During Spring Practice

CLEMSON - When the Clemson Tigers returned to camp after the Christmas break this past January, things appeared to fine, at least on the outside.

On the inside, things were anything but.

Some players were disgruntled about the way the 2006 season ended, while others gave up and didn't have much enthusiasm for winter workouts or football at all.

Knowing that he needed to do something to grab a hold of a locker room that had just eight returning seniors, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden called in his two most recognizable players – running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller – to get a feel of things and ask them to become the team leaders he knows they can be.

"He told us that me and James were the focal point of our team because we were going to get most of the publicity," Spiller said. "He told us to be careful in what we do and how we handle ourselves on and off the field, and how we practiced also.

"That was our main conversation. It wasn't about us getting more touches or catching the ball more. It was about being leaders for this team because we only have eight seniors and they can be great leaders, but we are the focal point of the team so he just wanted us to be better leaders."

Message heard loud and clear.

Davis and Spiller had outstanding springs as the Tigers, at least for the time being, put the problems of 2006 behind them. With it two dynamic running backs leading the way, Clemson appeared to answer a lot of questions about itself during the 15 practices the NCAA allows during the spring.

Cullen Harper and freshman Willy Korn separated themselves from what was a four-man race at quarterback. Barry Humphries seems to have locked down the starting center position which was a major concern coming into the spring, while guys like Rashaad Jackson and Phillip Merling have appeared to step in on the defensive side of the ball and taken over the leadership roles of Gaines Adams and Anthony Waters.

At wide receiver Aaron Kelly bulked up and had a solid spring, as did Tyler Grisham, while Jacoby Ford appeared to have little problems filling the void left open by All-ACC wideout Chansi Stuckey's graduation.

"I know a lot was talked about our quarterback, but last year our wide receiver as a whole didn't have a very good year," Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence said. "I thought as a group they had as good of spring as any. Guys like Aaron, Jacoby and Tyler really had outstanding springs and I thought made some big strides."

The Clemson offense, which averaged just 340.6 yards and 17.4 points a game over the last five to end the season, really made some big strides with its overall philosophy. The Tigers recommitted themselves to the passing game, while at the same time trying to find different ways to get Davis and Spiller the ball.

"It is going to workout great," Davis said. "A lot of people have not seen it yet, but we have so much stuff in our game plan, it is going to shock a lot of people when they see it."

Davis said only part of the game plan was revealed in the Spring Game last week. On two different occasions Spiller received the ball in the quarterback position, while another time he received during a direct snap.

"Defenses were telling themselves ‘Lets stop the run and make Clemson beat us with the pass,'" Davis said. "That's what a lot of teams did during that second half of the season. During the spring we developed our passing game a lot so if teams do that, then they need to watch out.

"I love it... We have a lot of stuff in our offense that will turn some people's heads." There could be even a few plays that will see Davis and Spiller throw the ball.

"I hope so," Davis said. "Coach has drawn up a lot of stuff that we are going to be doing. We worked on a lot of it during the spring so there is some pass routes we will be throwing to.

"It is a little bit like that Arkansas offense I like, so I think it's going to be good." Top Stories