#5. The Little Things
It was a year ago in this same space where a lengthy discussion was held about the little things in regards to the Clemson Tigers and their 2007 football season. Unfortunately, the same conversation could be had again this season. Last year, it was dropped passes and missed field goals against Georgia Tech, a dropped touchdown reception against Boston College and a woeful start against Virginia Tech that sealed the Tigers' fate. Give the other teams credit for making big plays with the game on the line, but in almost every circumstance the games were there to be won. In 2008, if Clemson is going to win the ACC for the first time in 17 years, Clemson can't beat itself. Mental mistakes, including missed assignments, dropped passes, missed field goals, ill-timed turnovers, etc. must be kept at a minimum.
#4. The Special Teams
On paper, Clemson's special teams should be a strength of the team this year. Consider: Mark Buchholz is a senior and has one of the strongest legs in school history. He's also done with soccer and already has a game-winning field goal against South Carolina on his resume. Clemson's starting punter, Jimmy Maners is also a senior and has ample leg strength. The Tigers' return game should be one of the most explosive units in the nation with players like C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Marcus Gilchrist returning punts and kickoffs. In addition, a new special teams coach (Andre Powell) was appointed this offseason to help alleviate past concerns. Given the roller-coaster results of the last five years, special teams has to be on this list, but truth be told, if this unit remains a concern the entire season-the free throw curse from Clemson's mens basketball team has officially made its way to the gridiron.
#3. Depth at Safety
With two seniors returning at both cat and free safety in Mike Hamlin and Chris Clemons respectively, the Tigers are set in their defensive backfield entering the start of preseason camp. The only potential problem comes if either one of those players were to go down to injury at some point during the season. Right now the backups would be former running back Sadat Chambers and DeAndre McDaniel, who spent part of spring practice playing as a linebacker in Clemson's nickel package, and who's status for the season is not 100 percent clear at the present moment due to off-the-field problems. The bottom line, one of Clemson's young safeties needs to have a strong camp. Whether it's Rashard Hall or Spencer Adams or converted cornerback Haydrian Lewis - defensive coordinator Vic Koenning would love to develop some depth behind his two starters.
#2. The Linebackers
When none of last year's starters return, you know there's concern. The good news is both Scotty Cooper (SAM) and Kavell Conner (WILL) have starting experience, but the bad news is it's just four total games. MIKE linebacker Brandon Maye has turned heads in limited time on the scout team and also during spring practice but as a redshirt freshman, he's yet to prove himself in an actual game. His backup- Josh Miller, has never played consistently at the college level and his other backup, Jeremy Campbell, is better suited on the outside. Don't be fooled, there is talent here and having nearly everybody back on the defensive line and in the secondary will help, there's just not a lot of experience.
#1. The Offensive Line
When the head coach admits in his first press conference of the year his offensive line is his biggest concern entering the first game against Alabama, how could any other area of the team top our list? There's youth and inexperience everywhere as the Tigers must once again figure out a way to replace four out of five starters. However the difference between this year's group and last year's is that the four new starters are more talented as opposed to being career second-teamers. Center Thomas Austin will anchor the interior and is as good as you'll find in the league. Tackle Chris Hairston also has a good bit of experience under his belt, as does right guard Barry Humphries. The big questions come at the other tackle (Cory Lambert), at left guard with redshirt freshman David Smith and Jamarcus Grant. In addition, fellow redshirt freshmen Mason Cloy, Wilson Norris and Landon Walker are also expected to crack the two-deep or nail down starting spots at some point in the season. Like the linebackers, this group is talented but young. Predicting how quickly they come together is anybody's guess, but the Tigers are hoping it's sooner rather than later.
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