5 Burning Questions for the Passing Game

CUTigers.com takes a look at five burning questions facing Clemson's passing game entering the 2007 season.

#5. Can Cullen Harper handle the pressure of being a starter?
Judging by what happened this spring, Harper appears as strong mentally as former quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and stronger than last year's starter Will Proctor. Harper has a chip on his shoulder and has had to earn everything given to him.

He is out to prove that just because Clemson signed a big-name recruit in Willy Korn doesn't automatically mean the youngster is going to start or even get much playing time. Remember, Proctor was given the job without having to do much other than wait his turn. And even when things went South in a hurry, Proctor's job was never in jeopardy. But even so, he wilted under the intense scrutiny of the media.

Harper is different. So is Korn, for that matter.

Harper keeps the media at a distance, while Korn is very savvy. Both are good techniques at not allowing the media get to them mentally. Proctor wasn't savvy and he allowed the media to get to close and pry into his personal well-being. And the results weren't pretty.

That shouldn't be a problem this year, no matter regardless of who is lined up underneath center.

#4. Will the passing game be improved over last season?
With all due respect, how can it not be? All that virtually existed were the bubble screens to Chansi Stuckey, Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller. There was very little downfield passing and there are a couple of reasons for that: Proctor's inaccuracy and the lack of a go-to receiver.

The only real times Clemson opted to throw the ball downfield was when it was forced to. But with the much stronger arm of Harper, who also possesses accuracy closer to Whitehurst than Proctor, the passing game should open up and be more consistent. However …

#3. Will the offense feature more downfield throwing?
This depends on two basic factors: Will the offensive line give the quarterback enough protection to do so and will offensive coordinator Rob Spence be more aggressive with his play calling?

Two years ago, when Spence first arrived at Clemson, he took a lot of heat for not attempting more passes longer than 15 yards. He said then that the primary reason was that the offensive line wasn't good enough to provide the time for Whitehurst to look at all his receivers and hoist it to the open one.

The offensive line is inexperienced and is probably the biggest question mark facing the Clemson offense this season. If Spence doesn't feel as though it can protect the quarterback, then fans could very well see the same sort of dink-and-dunk offense they have the last two seasons.

#2. Who will be the go-to receiver?
All signs point to Aaron Kelly. He's got nice speed, nice hands and a strong spring under his belt. While he disappeared for prolonged stretches last year, not all of it was his fault. Again, he didn't have a quarterback who could get him the ball on a regular basis.

His route running left something to be desired and was often in the doghouse. But that all seemed to change during the spring and the coaching staff couldn't have been more pleased with his efforts.

Kelly may not lead the ACC in receptions like Stuckey did, but he also isn't going to be getting screen passes. His receptions will likely result in first downs, not three yards and a cloud of dust.

#1. Will there be a two-quarterback system?
This is the million-dollar question. Odds are there won't be, but odds are both quarterbacks will play.

Many outsiders feel that regardless who is at quarterback that the Tigers are destined for a 6-6 or 7-5 season. And if that's the case, they think their future would be brighter with redshirting Korn and giving him a year's maturity and a better understanding of the offense. So instead of getting a little playing time this year and possibly splitting time next, he would have to split time only one year and have three all to his self.

But that's not likely, even though word is that those in the Korn camp wouldn't be opposed to such a thing.

The most likely scenario is that Korn will be used like Tim Tebow was last year for the Florida Gators. He will come in every three or four series or in special situations.

If Harper can handle the job, as it appears he can, then there's no reason to push Korn into something he may not be ready for. It can't be overstated as to just how big a difference there is between being a true freshman playing and being a redshirt freshman playing. Many more times than not, the redshirt freshman performs much better.

But as Tommy Bowden always says, "I'm not going to save him for the next (coach)."

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