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May 3, 2009Never miss breaking news on Clemson sports and recruiting. Sign-up for Tiger Illustrated Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
WILL Frontrunner: Kavell Conner
Size: 6-1, 230 pounds.
2008 season: In his first year as a starter, Conner logged 650 snaps, and led the Tigers in tackles with 125 stops, with 66 first-hits. He enters the 2009 season with 15 career starts.
MIKE Frontrunner: Brandon Maye
Size: 6-2, 230 pounds.
2008 season: Started 12 of 13 games in 2008, totaling 545 snaps, and finished fourth on the Tiger defense in tackles with 87. Registered 5 TFL and 2 sacks, and earned freshman All-America honors.
Other contenders for significant action - Scotty Cooper (6-1, 220), junior; Tig Willard (6-2, 217), red-shirt freshman; Jeremy Campbell (6-1, 225), senior; Buster Hunter (5-10, 220), sophomore.
2008 recap - This group went into the season without numerous key players, notably three-year starters Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie, as well as 2007 MIKE starter Cortney Vincent and 2006 starter Antonio Clay. This group looked out of place with an abundance of missed assignments and missed tackles earlier in the season, but rebounded well in the second half, with Conner leading the entire defense in stops in his first tour of duty as a front-man. Cooper lost out to more talented, athletic hybrid defender DeAndre McDaniel, who's now the Tigers' starting strong safety. Clemson's staff opted to red-shirt Willard, and roll with Hunter, who tallied an efficient 37 stops in 158 snaps, though from the MIKE spot.
Off-season Prospectus - Hunter shifted to the SAM position in the spring, but missed a portion of the second half due to health issues. He will be cleared for the start of session one of summer voluntary workouts, which begin later this month. After a cup of coffee at the WILL position in 2008, Cooper settled in well at the SAM spot in the spring, while Jeremy Campbell, the most interchangeable player here, got work at all three spots before logging the most snaps at MIKE. And Tig Willard began the transition from MIKE to WILL. This group now has a blueprint of what to expect, now working in 15 practices with a new position coach, after playing under Ron West and David Blackwell the last three years.
Checking The Pipeline - Cooper still managed four starts and nearly 250 snaps in 2008, despite getting a demotion. He's admittedly fully healthy for the first time in his career, after enduring two knee surgeries since his arrival. Therefore his increasing lower body strength has aided his explosion and power. Daniel Andrews, a sophomore role player, unofficially, exited the spring at second-team SAM, but doesn't have staying power in that role, as he is limited physically, and doesn't possess the talent, speed, quickness, explosion and instincts Hunter owns. The odds are favorable Quandon Christian red-shirts this fall, but the book is not yet closed for him to get a look at SAM initially. Campbell could also get more time at WILL this fall. Though he is a role player, it remains a big season for him, because his production will afford staffers the chance to red-shirt Corico Hawkins and Spencer Shuey. Willard could put himself on the map this fall, and on pace to launch himself as a starter in 2010 with a good season. The four-time state wrestling champion is arguably the most naturally gifted player in this rotation. All in all, an improved rotation this fall, but depth will be a major concern over the first half of the season.
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