WHO'S NEW? True freshman Da'Quan Bowers, the nation's No. 2 recruit according to Scout.com has already enrolled in school and will participate in spring practice. While he'll start on the fourth team at defensive end, don't expect him to stay there long. Also, keep an eye on Andre Branch, who is currently bracketed with Rennie Moore as the second team defensive end. Redshirt freshman Byron Clear will also attempt to make some noise on the depth chart.
BATTLE TO WATCH: Kevin Alexander vs. Da'Quan Bowers. Rising junior Kevin Alexander made nice progress serving as Phillip Merling's back up last season, and he should provide ample competition for one of the top players signed in the history of Clemson football in Da'Quan Bowers. The question remains, who will emerge this spring as the starter? Bowers offers unmatched athleticism for his size, but is only a freshman. He has no game day experience and has only been on campus for six weeks. Meanwhile Alexander is a versatile defensive player who clearly has his best days ahead of him. Does pure talent get the edge over experience?
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said of the anticipated battle, "Traditionally, what coaches have always done is you let the upperclassmen have the first shot. But I'll say this, nobody works harder than Kevin and he's probably the strongest pound-for-pound guy that we have in the weight room. I think it will be a really good competition. And then when you throw Andre Branch in there, who we got to redshirt this year and who we think is going to be a good player, I think we're going to be really strong at that position."
BOLD PREDICTIONS: Bowers moves up to the first team and is bracketed with Alexander as the first team strongside end by the Orange & White game. Jamie Cumbie stays inside and Miguel Chavis emerges as a quality backup at nose guard behind Dorrell Scott.
TEAM IMPACT: While most fans are enamored with the performance of skill position players, football games are usually won at the line of scrimmage in the trenches. A powerful defensive line means everything, just ask the New England Patriots, who started the 2007 season 18-0 before losing to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII thanks to a dominating performance by their defensive front.
Clemson's front four should be a strength of the defense next season, especially with three starters and nearly every key backup returning. Also, don't forget about Da'Quan Bowers, who arguably arrives as the most talented prospect in the history of Clemson football.
Simply put, the Tigers have a nice balance of size and athleticism returning at multiple positions. Ricky Sapp is athletic an end as you'll find and his production should continue to increase, while Scott is the run stuffer and Jackson has a motor that never stops.
Last year the Tigers ranked 23rd in the country in rush defense, 13th in pass defense and 10th in scoring defense. With just about every key member of last year's line returning, don't expect those numbers to change much in 2008.