5 questions for spring practice

CLEMSON - The Tigers hit the practice fields for the first time this spring Monday afternoon.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney recently talked about how he needed to change the mentality of his football program.

He talked about needing to get his players to understand there is a certain level of toughness they should play at each and every Saturday in the fall.

He talked about getting his players to buy into what he and the coaching staff were doing, and more importantly he talked about how everyone, even down to the fans, had to start believing Clemson will be a champion again.

But to get his players to understand what he wants and what his coaches want, and to get everyone to believe in the program, he first must find a way to answer these five questions over the next 34 days and 15 practices of the spring:

1. Who will come out of the spring as the starting quarterback?
Willy Korn was supposed to be the man automatically when Cullen Harper graduated but shoulder injuries in each of the last two seasons have many wondering whether he can come out of the spring as the starting quarterback. Plus, you have to consider his confidence. Has he gained that back after losing it when his mechanics and arm strength went south before his surgery?

Kyle Parker could have the most to gain if Korn can't get it together. The redshirt freshman has a stronger arm, but the question is can he compete for the starting quarterback job while trying to be an All-ACC baseball player at the same time.

Michael Wade and Jon Richt will get some reps with the first team also. Swinney says the job may not get settled this spring and could carry over into the summer and possibly the season.

2. Mark Buchholz set numerous records at Clemson in just two years. Now the question is who will replace him?
Buchholz became one of the more reliable kickers in the country in the last two seasons. The former soccer star never missed an extra point in his career and was 15-of-21 on field goals in 2008. He also set single-season records for points scored and field goals in '07, and is the all-time leader in career extra points. His replacement is every bit as important as finding a new quarterback. The Tigers have several candidates, but only junior Richard Jackson has actually kicked in a game, and those were PATs.

Spencer Benton will challenge Jackson for the job, and the Tigers could give punter Dawson Zimmerman a look or two, but it is highly unlikely he will kick and punt for the Tigers.

Clemson fans will hear a lot about freshman safety Rashard Hall this spring.
3. Will someone other than C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford become playmakers?
Aaron Kelly has since graduated and took it seems all of the ACC and school records along with him. As did James Davis at running back and so did Tyler Grisham and his sure hands at receiver. So who do the Tigers have this season to compliment Spiller and Ford as playmakers?

At running back, sophomore Jamie Harper and redshirt freshman Andre' Ellington have the potential, but neither has really had the opportunity to prove it.

"I'm excited to see these guys step up," Swinney said. "I can't wait to see Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington and see how they have developed, but we have to get them in the right places and give them opportunities to do what they like to do."

Xavier Dye is likely to replace Kelly at wideout and Jaron Brown has the coaches excited about his potential. Marquan Jones has the potential to be every bit as dangerous as Ford, and Brandon Clear finally appears ready to contribute.

4. It seemed as if Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons were franchise players at Clemson because they started so many games, but now they have moved on and out of the Clemson secondary. Who will replace them?
DeAndre McDaniel seems to be a prime candidate and will move back this spring from strong side linebacker to his natural position at safety. Clemson secondary coach Charlie Harbison is anxious to see how McDaniel will perform as well as the rest of the guys in the secondary.

"I'm excited he is moving back because that is his natural position," Swinney said. "I'm anxious to see our young guys in Carlton Lewis, Rashard Hall, see where Spencer Adams is in the second half and Sadat Chambers. "It is his opportunity to be a starter now."

5. Who will catch the ball?
A little bit of this was discussed in the quest for new playmakers, but besides quarterback, the Tigers' wide receiver position seems to be in desperate need. Kelly and Grisham combined to catch 104 passes for 1,094 yards and five touchdowns in '08.

Not only are those numbers difficult to replace, but they have to do it while trying to learn a new scheme. Dye can be every bit as good as Kelly, yet he has been unable to prove he can consistently make plays in his first two years. Brown, though raw, is a dynamic receiver who can play many positions.

"We are really excited about him. He can be a multiple position type guy," Swinney said. "He is really physical and he can play the 'X' which is a critical position for us, but he is athletic and fast enough he can play the 'A' and 'Z.'

"He is a smart enough player. He will be an intriguing guy as we move through the spring."

Jones, Clear, freshman Brandon Ford, Terrence Ashe and East Carolina transfer Kyle Johnson will also get an opportunity this spring to see what they can do.

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