Spiller showed signs of taking more of what the defense gives him this spring, but he still has a lot to prove on the field this fall. The entire country knows he's capable of turning a five-yard sweep or screen pass into an electrifying 80-yard touchdown, but can he be counted on to carry the load in critical situations late in games? Again, he's shown flashes of improving in this area going back to last season- but his consistency is something that must improve in 2008 in order for this former five-star back to live up to his incredible potential. Yes, James Davis is more of a "work-horse" type running back, but Spiller could use more that mentality to not only help Clemson's offense this season, but to improve his draft status a year from now as well. If he can be content with the four- and five-yard runs, the 80-yard highlight reel touchdowns will come just as easy.
#4. Where do freshmen Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington fit in?
Chances are they fit in directly behind Davis and Spiller- especially Harper. Entering summer workouts around 230 pounds, Harper has the ability to give Clemson's offense a much-needed "bigger back" for short-yardage and goal line situations, but how many opportunities will he get with two of the most talented running backs in school history ahead of him on the depth chart? And what about Andre Ellington? Davis is done after this year and Spiller will likely bolt for the NFL as well- does he get playing time as a true freshman to make the transition in 2009 easier? Both prospects were considered two of the prospects in the country a year ago but can they become impact players early in their careers? We'll know the answers to these questions after a couple of weeks of preseason camp.
If Clemson is going to win the ACC they need to be. While most of the onus here falls on the offensive line, all of Clemson's backs will have to do what they can to make sure all of those 3rd-and-2's and 3rd-and-goal's don't turn into fourth downs. It's also important to note, the right personnel needs to be in the game during these situations- namely Davis in at running back with Chad Diehl serving as the lead blocker. If Harper proves he's ready to compete early this season- he can be in that mix as well. Until Spiller proves he's going to attack the line of scrimmage each and every play, Clemson's bigger backs must remain in the game in this critical situations.
#2. How big of a factor will the offensive line play in all of this?
This is, without a doubt, the million dollar question surrounding Clemson football entering the 2008 season. It would be a shame for two of the top running backs to ever step foot in Death Valley to struggle this season because the offensive line can't consistently open the kind of holes they need to. On paper, it doesn't look good- the Tigers return just one true starter from last year in Thomas Austin. However, a deeper inspection reveals there is cause for optimism as Chris Hairston, Cory Lambert and Barry Humphries all have modest starting experience. In addition, there are younger players like David Smith, Wilson Norris, Mason Cloy and Landon Walker who are considered talent upgrades from previous seasons. The line will be a work in progress early, but it should show considerable improvement as the season moves long- which should make for bigger running lanes for Davis, Spiller and Harper as the team enters the meat of the schedule.
#1. Can James Davis stay at 100 percent for an entire season?
Nobody is talking about it because nobody is really sure just how injured Davis has been in recent years. Clearly, he's had stretches where his shoulder hasn't been 100 percent. He's also suffered a variety of other ailments which have limited his snaps at times, including a broken wrist during his freshman year. Still, despite all of this, he needs just over 835 yards to break Clemson's all-time rushing record. No one can question his heart- he gives it everything he has every snap of every game. No one question his talent either- he makes moves and creates big play opportunities better than any back since Ronald Williams in the early 1990's. But there have been times when he hasn't been 100 percent and the offense is not as productive as a result. Having sat out the second part of spring practice after electing to have shoulder surgery, the good news is Davis will be at full strength in time for the start of preseason camp. Having the option of using Harper as another bruising back in short-yardage situations should help Davis remain healthy, but just think what his numbers would look like with an injury free senior year? Wow.