SPRING PREVIEW: WRs Loaded

With first-team All-ACC WR Aaron Kelly returning, the Tigers should have plenty of weapons for QB Cullen Harper.

WHO'S BACK? Nearly every key contributor from last year's group of wide receivers, except Rendrick Taylor returns in 2008, including first-team All-ACC performer Aaron Kelly who set single-season school records for receptions (88) and touchdowns (11) last year. Speedster Jacoby Ford will not be available for spring practice as he continues to recover from a broken ankle he suffered during the Maryland game last season, but Tyler Grisham, who finished second on the team with 60 catches and RB C.J. Spiller, who was third with 34 receptions both return.

WHO'S NEW? True freshman wide out Marquan Jones figures to see significant action this spring in hopes of cracking the two-deep depth chart this fall. A Chansi Stuckey clone, Jones needs to show a firm grasp of the playbook and catch everything thrown his way to avoid a redshirt season. Chances are, that's exactly what he'll do. Also, redshirt freshman Brandon Clear figures to be in the mix for significant playing time. He was voted by the coaching staff as the scout team player of the year last fall, and he has already added 10-pounds of muscle mass to his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame.

BATTLE TO WATCH: With Rendrick Taylor moving over to linebacker and with Ford out, the Tigers must find a quality No. 3 wide out this spring. Is it Brandon Clear? Marquan Jones? Whoever it is, that player will likely have the opportunity to catch 30-40 passes next season.


Don't forget about senior wide out Tyler Grisham, who caught 60 passes for 653 yards and four touchdowns in 2007.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: Key No. 1 for this unit in the spring is for seniors Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham to remain healthy. Both players know their roles already and should continue to focus on improving their fundamentals. For younger players like Xavier Dye, Brandon Clear and Marquan Jones, the opportunities will be there in the two major scrimmages before the Orange & White game to show they are ready for playing time this fall.

BOLD PREDICTIONS: Clear establishes himself as the No. 3 wide receiver this spring, proving he's ready to be a significant factor in the offense next season. Jones also shows he can be a factor in the short to intermediate passing game and will avoid a redshirt.

TEAM IMPACT: With senior QB Cullen Harper returning, as well as potential first-team All-ACC performers James Davis and C.J. Spiller at running back, the Tigers will be loaded on offense next season.

Even the wide receivers are full of experienced playmakers with seniors Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham returning.

Wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney said it best earlier this offseason when he spoke of the Tigers' plans on offense this year. "Right now if you are to ask what our plans are, it will be to get the ball to No. 1 (James Davis), 28 (C.J. Spiller), 6 (Ford), 13 (Grisham) and 80 (Kelly). You know, those guys," he said.

Simply put, Clemson has more weapons returning on offense this year than perhaps any point in school history.

For the wide outs, Kelly will most certainly draw much more attention downfield this year, which means somebody else will have to step up with the short to intermediate routes.

In all likelihood, that player will need to be Jacoby Ford. Ford's speed gives him the ability to score any time he touches the ball, and he's also important in the ground game (third on the team last year in only eight games of action with 176 yards and three carries of over 20 yards).

While won't be available this spring, he's expected to be back to full strength in time for the start of preseason camp.

Don't be surprised if he holds the key to the overall success of this unit in 2008.

Still, if Kelly can come anywhere close to his production from a year ago, the Tigers should be just fine with Ford, Grisham and any combination of the younger players mentioned above.

Each player brings a certain skill set to the table - Kelly: size and the ability to catch the deep ball in traffic, Ford: pure speed and good ellusivness and Grisham: a quality possession receiver (even though he doesn't like the term) with surprising quickness. And, each player has experience and has proven success in Rob Spence's offense.

Finally, don't forget about former walk-on Nelson Faerber. You can thank him for a blocked punt and touchdown reception in last year's 23-21 win over South Carolina. He figures to see playing time this season as well.

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