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High expectations will follow Clemson around this season. The Tigers return their playmakers on offense and also get back eight starters on defense. Is this the season the Tigers break through and win an ACC title? Emphasis this spring will be on retooling the offensive line. Here's a look at the Tigers as they prepare to open spring practice March 8.
James Davis is one of multiple offensive playmakers Clemson returns in 2008.
Offense? 6: C/G Thomas Austin, TB James Davis, WR Tyler Grisham, QB Cullen Harper, C/G Barry Humphries, WR Aaron Kelly.
Defense? 8: CB Crezdon Butler, CB Chris Chancellor, FS Chris Clemons, SS Michael Hamlin, T Rashaad Jackson, E Ricky Sapp, T Dorell Scott, LB Cortney Vincent.
Special Teams? 2: K Mark Buchholz, P Jimmy Maners.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Davis and C.J. Spiller give Clemson arguably the nation's top tandem at tailback. Harper returns at quarterback after exceeding all expectations last season as a first-year starter. Kelly and Grisham return at wide receiver after combining to catch 148 passes for 1,734 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Clemson also returns all four starters in the secondary.
HELP IS NEEDED
Clemson must replace three starters on the offensive line, including both tackles. The Tigers could have a particularly difficult time finding anyone who can match the production of tackle Barry Richardson and guard Chris McDuffie, who ranked among the ACC's top linemen last year.
KEEP AN EYE ON
DE DaQuan Bowers: Rated as the nation's No. 2 overall prospect in the 2008 recruiting class by Rivals.com, Bowers already is on campus and should immediately challenge for a starting job. He could Clemson's recent tradition of outstanding pass-rushing defensive ends (e.g. Gaines Adams, Phillip Merling).
G Bobby Hutchinson: This fifth-year senior has never had such a great opportunity to win a starting job. Hutchinson will open spring practice as a first-team guard, but he must perform well to hold off challenges from talented underclassmen with greater upside.
LB Rendrick Taylor: After catching 25 passes for 259 yards as a wide receiver last season, Taylor is moving to defense this spring. Will Taylor, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior who has battled injuries, have a better chance of staying healthy now that he's delivering hits instead of absorbing them?
HIS TIME IS NOW
OT Cory Lambert, a former four-star prospect, has spent much of his career backing up Richardson. Now that Richardson has moved on to the NFL, Lambert should get the first chance to replace him. If Lambert doesn't step up, Clemson has plenty of other candidates to take the job from him.
There really aren't too many issues this year because Clemson returns most of its starters and didn't make major changes to its coaching staff. The biggest concern facing the Tigers is how they will retool their offensive line now that Richardson and McDuffie have departed.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.