O&W NOTEBOOK

CLEMSON – The spring game has come and gone for the Clemson football team and there are just as many questions now as there were before the first practice on March 8, though situations at linebacker and offensive line still dominate the issues.

If nothing else, the spring game showed that the defensive line of the Tigers is deeper and more talented than that of the offensive line and the Orange and White Game Saturday in front of some 20,000 fans at Memorial stadium proved it.

Even when first-teamers were lined up against first-teamers, the defense usually won the battle, as evident by 11 sacks that were recorded during the game.

For example, starting right tackle rising redshirt junior Cory Lambert had some difficulties blocking freshman Da'Quan Bowers, who blasted past him to sack quarterback Willy Korn.

Head coach Tommy Bowden said the offensive line is his biggest worry.

"When you have questions on the offensive line, that's always a concern," he said. "But they'll get better. But that does cause you some concern, especially going against a quality opponent like Alabama in the opening game."

Specifically, all eyes are on Lambert. He is the starting at left tackle, who many consider the most important spot on the line because it's the position that protects the blind spot of a right-handed quarterback like Cullen Harper.

"(Chris) Hairston (at right tackle) is ready play, but Cory's not," Bowden said. "But he's made progress this spring. It's been his best spring yet. But it's all relative. He's got a ways to go."

For his part, Lambert likes where his game currently is, but understands there's much more to come.

"It's definitely been the best spring I've had," he said. "My quickness and physicalness is better and I'm definitely able to run block better. But I think I've got some more growing to do. I still have some things to improve on."

Defensively, the area that most are watching is at linebacker, which has seen its top four players from a year ago absent this spring.

Tramaine Billie and Nick Watkins used up their eligibility, while Cortney Vincent was suspended due to violation of team rules and a pending DUI, and Antonio Clay left school to return home to continue his battle with depression.

That left a very inexperienced and young corps of linebackers to fill the three spots. The vast group has shown a very good ability to play the positions, but very few have stepped to the forefront, which Bowden is waiting on to happen.

"I think we've got a bunch of guys with their numbers in a hat and I'd like to see two separate themselves from the pack," he said. "I'm anxious to see if we have a difference maker like a LeRoy Hill or Levon Kirkland."

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said Kavell Conner leaves spring as the starter at Will and that Brandon Maye has the edge at Mike, though not by much, and that it's too close to call at Sam.

"We have guys that we think have the ability, but we've just got to get them to do it," Koenning said. "We've just got to progress at Sam linebacker, but we still have a lot of things to settle at the linebacker spots."

CLAY UPDATE: Bowden told CUTigers.com that he spoke with Clay some two weeks ago and that the would-be rising senior sounded good. He also said that Clay wants to return to the team and school, but at this point it's unclear if he will be able to do it.

Bowden said that the compliance office is trying to get him a special waiver by the NCAA but that academics could be an issue. As a senior, Clay will need to have completed 80 percent of his schoolwork toward his major.

DYE SHINES: Rising sophomore receiver Xavier Dye had a very good spring game, making six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.

Bowden said it puts a cap on a very good spring for Dye.

"He's kind of done that all spring," Bowden said. "He's shown that he might be in a position to help us."

As it stands, Dye will still back up Aaron Kelly, but will play in four receiver sets.

BETTER SPRING: Nearly every veteran player on offense and defense believes this was a spring that will ultimately help the Tigers achieve their first ACC title in 17 years.

Rising senior safety Michael Hamlin said the defense was able to concentrate on the little things that will serve it well in the future.

"This year, I think everybody knows their roles," he said. "It seems like everybody is living up to their potential."

Rising junior tailback C.J. Spiller said he has become a much better blocker and is able to pick up his reads a lot quicker, while Harper said he has a full grasp of the entire offense.

"I thought for me personally that it was my best spring yet, as it should be with it being my fifth year," Harper said. "I've improved so much and from where I was a year ago."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a dream come true. I didn't really think about all the fans being in the stands. I just tried to go out and show them what's to come during the season," freshman end Da'Quan Bowers on playing in front of a crowd in Death Valley.

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