5 Things Learned in the Preseason

CLEMSON - Preseason camp? It's over. Facing No. 24 Alabama in the Georgia Dome? Only 10 days away. CUTigers.com examines the top five things we learned during preseason camp, including a surprise or two along the way in this report.

No matter what was said about Clemson's offensive linemen and their development during preseason camp, head coach Tommy Bowden was extremely cautious about their performance overall, and rightfully so. Nobody will truly know just how good, or bad, this unit will be until it faces another team. Still, you can't help but feel encouraged by some of the comments made by the team and Bowden's staff during the last three weeks of camp. Chris Hairston is a proven commodity at left tackle who the staff feels extremely comfortable with right off the bat against Alabama. The same thing could be said at center where junior Thomas Austin anchors the line. The Tigers also found their starting right tackle during the preseason in Cory Lambert- who has showed surprising leadership and a consistent level of play for the first time in his career. Barry Humphries has also gotten off to a good start at guard. Sure, there may be a question or two still out there, particularly at guard around Austin, but this unit overall won't be nearly as bad as some national experts have suggested in recent weeks.

It's not that they haven't before; it's just that it appears to be more of a priority this year. More practice time is spent on kick coverage and punt teams and there appears to be more competition everywhere- which should only make all of Clemson's special teams stronger this year. In addition, the naming of running backs coach Andre Powell cannot be underestimated. Powell held the same role at North Carolina and had success and he also brings a more detailed approach to all aspects of special teams.

The buzz has reached the same level we saw two years ago with C.J. Spiller during his freshman season. Harper is the jumbo back Clemson's offense has needed the last couple of seasons and has proven extremely effective in short-yardage and goal line situations. He's also shown surprising quickness and has a nice slide-step that will get net him more yards than expected as a true freshman. Assuming his ankle is okay through the course of the upcoming season, the Tigers have truly found their next big playmaker at running back. And oh by the way, fellow freshman Andre Ellington is no slouch himself. As ridiculous as this may sound, Clemson could lose two of its greatest running backs in school history next season and not miss a beat.

Linebackers coach David Blackwell feels good about his group, but there is no definitive depth chart established just yet. We know Stanley Hunter and Brandon Maye will battle it out at MIKE and Scotty Cooper and DeAndre McDaniel are doing the same thing at SAM. Kavell Conner appears to have settled in as the starting WILL, and Jeremy Campbell could play multiple positions if needed as could Hunter. But who starts? Good question. Conner is locked in but after that is anybody's guess. The staff will meet Wednesday to try and hammer those details out in preparing for the season opener against Alabama.

It hasn't been the biggest story line out of camp because it's almost expected, but how about the rave reviews of Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper? So far, the preseason hype hasn't gone to his head and he actually has been playing at a higher level than what he did last year when he smashed 20+ school records. Simply put, Harper makes all of the throws, is more of a leader and seems to know where he's going with the football the second he breaks the huddle. The value of a confident fifth-year senior quarterback running your offense can't be stated enough, especially in a league where quality quarterback play doesn't exist. Want to know the difference between Clemson and the rest of the league? It starts under center.

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