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March 7, 2009

Swinney out to get Clemson over the hump

Clemson went into the 2008 season with high expectations. The Tigers were supposed to contend for the ACC title and be a sleeper in the national title race.

However, Clemson finished 4-4 in the ACC and fired its coach.

The Tigers appear to be OK on defense, but they'll have to break in a new starting quarterback this year.

Here's a look Clemson as it prepares to open spring drills.

Dabo Swinney has 15 starters back as he enters his first full season at Clemson.
Coach: Dabo Swinney
Last season: 7-6, 4-4 ACC. Lost to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Spring dates: March 7-April 11
Offense (7): G/C Thomas Austin, G Mason Cloy, WR Jacoby Ford, T Chris Hairston, G Cory Lambert, TE Michael Palmer, T Landon Walker.
Defense (8): E Kevin Alexander, CB Crezdon Butler, CB Chris Chancellor, LB Kavell Conner, T Jarvis Jenkins, LB Brandon Maye, LB DeAndre McDaniel, E Ricky Sapp.
Special teams: None.
Positions of strength

Coach Dabo Swinney's first team would be wise to build around what looks like a strong defense. The secondary should be the strongest part of the unit with cornerbacks Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor back from a defense that ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring, total and pass defense last season. There will be a new coordinator, as Kevin Steele was hired away from Alabama to replace Vic Koenning - who was let go by Swinney. The offensive line returns four starters and has the potential to be a solid unit.

Help is needed

Quarterback Cullen Harper is gone after enduring an inconsistent season. Who will be the new quarterback? A new starting wide receiver is needed, and coaches also need to develop some depth at the position after two starters graduated. Clemson has shared the wealth at tailback the past few seasons, but with the graduation of James Davis and the elevation of C.J. Spiller to starter, the Tigers must find a No. 2 tailback. The Tigers also need to develop a pass rush after having a paltry 14 sacks in 2008.

Keep an eye on

FS Sadat Chambers: The ability to cover in space and also play the run are attributes the Clemson staff hopes Chambers a senior can display for a defense that needs a hard-hitting presence in the secondary.

WR Xavier Dye: It is vital the offense has the ability to stretch defenses that will try to crowd the line and stuff the run. That's where Dye a junior who had just six catches last season can come in handy, working the deep middle to loosen defenses.

QB Willy Korn: He arrived amid big hype, and now is the time for him to fulfill his massive high school hype. Korn, a sophomore who threw 38 passes last season, has shown flashes but still must show he can handle the job full time.

His time is now

It is important that defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins, a junior who started last season, emerges as a consistent player with the losses of Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson. Jenkins needs to play at a higher level if the Tigers' defensive line is to be as good as it can be.

The buzz

The goal and focus is obvious: Clemson needs to find a quarterback if the Tigers hope to build on the fast finish they experienced last season after Swinney took over. Korn will be pressed by redshirt freshman Kyle Parker, who doubles as a standout baseball player. This could get interesting, as a lot of pieces appear to be in place for a successful season.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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