Working out the kinks

CLEMSON — It's not hard to miss Ricky Sapp during a Clemson practice.

He is the guy in the shorts and t-shirt that is running up and down the sideline during the two-and-half hour practice each day.

It's a site Clemson defensive ends coach Chris Rumph enjoys seeing, but at the same time, he can't wait to see No. 7 back on the field.

Sapp, who led the Tigers with 10 tackles for a loss and two sacks last season despite missing three games, has missed all of spring practice as he recovers from a bad ACL tear he ripped against Virginia last fall.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound end missed the South Carolina game the following week and then did not play in Gator Bowl after having surgery to repair the damaged knee. Sapp could be seen in last Saturday's scrimmage running up and down the steps of the lower bowl to Memorial Stadium as he tries to strengthen the knee.

"There's not too many Sapp's that are running around," Rumph said. "We have to get him back and get that knee strong and get him back in the fold."

But until Sapp is able to go, Rumph says he has used spring practice to see if guys like Kevin Alexander and Kourtnei Brown can step up and become stellar ends as well at the bandit position. So far, he has seen much improvement in both.

"Kevin Alexander is making plays this year," the Clemson coach said. "He was a guy that I thought was always in the right place last year, but just really never made plays. I have seen him make plays this spring that last year he would have ran by or never saw.

"I'm tickled to death with him and his leadership. He is doing tremendous and I'm expecting big things out of him."

Rumph is also tickled with the play of Brown, who has had a solid spring to this point and is up to 240 pounds.

"Kourtnei Brown is fine and is working hard," Rumph said. "He knows his weakness and he is working on it."

On the other side, Rumph is like everyone else and is amazed with the size and athletic ability of Da'Quan Bowers. The 6-foot-4, 275 pound sophomore has been nearly unblockable at times this spring and registered three sacks and four tackles for a loss, while causing a fumble and forcing an interception is this past Saturday's scrimmage.

But with that being said, Rumph said Bowers still has some work to do to become the player everyone thinks he can be. He said the Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School product has to work on his hand placement, pad level and technique.

He thinks Bowers relies on his athletic ability too much and that gets him into some sticky situations.

"We need more out of him and he knows that," Rumph said. "He is doing pretty well, but he is still not where he needs to be. It is a good thing we don't play tomorrow or next week, but he will be ready by August.

"I'm pleased with his progress thus far, but he has a lot more he can give this team and he can be a big time dominant player if he continues to work and get better."

Overall, Rumph has been pleased with his defensive ends, and that includes true freshman Malliciah Goodman, who enrolled in school in January, and sophomore Andre Branch.

"The guys are starting to play faster and are starting to understand the defense," he said. "The mistakes have gone down tremendously and I'm very proud of them. We are right on track to be where we are supposed to be.

"I'm pleased with this group I have. Each one of them brings something different to the table and we are not there yet. We still have a ways to go yet, but we will get there."

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