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The replacements

Who's in line to fill the void left by departed stars

Posted: Tuesday May 8, 2007 10:50AM; Updated: Wednesday May 9, 2007 2:17AM
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Defensive end Ricky Sapp showed potential as a true freshman, but is he ready to become Clemson's top pass rusher?
Defensive end Ricky Sapp showed potential as a true freshman, but is he ready to become Clemson's top pass rusher?
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From JaMarcus Russell to Ramzee Robinson, some of the biggest college stars have graduated to the NFL. But what about the holes they left behind? The winners of the Heisman, Maxwell, Butkus, Outland, Bednarik, Biletnikoff and Thorpe awards, among others, are gone. So who's next? And who's going to try and fill their shoes?

Here's a look at 10 of the biggest voids left behind and the player (or players) vying to fill those roles, minus some of the more obvious replacements -- i.e. Dan Connor slipping into Paul Posluszny's linebacking spot at Penn State, Tim Tebow succeeding Chris Leak as Florida's quarterback or Vidal Hazelton and Patrick Turner taking over at wide receiver at USC for Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.

Clemson

Who's Gone?
Gaines Adams
, DE
Arguably the nation's best defensive player last season, Adams was a unanimous first-team Associated Press All-America after registering 12 sacks in '06 and was picked fourth overall in the draft by the Buccaneers.

Who's Next?
Sophomore Ricky Sapp and senior Kwam Williams are being penciled in as co-starters, but this job will likely end up being Sapp's alone. He played in all 13 games last season, totaling 20 tackles and tying William "The Refrigerator" Perry for the most sacks by a Clemson true freshman with four. Williams recorded 10 tackles and no sacks in eight games.

The Verdict
Adams was a force of nature, but Sapp was highly effective in a limited role last season. The return of linebacker Tramaine Billie from injury should help ease the pressure on Sapp and allow him to use his speed and wealth of moves to cause havoc in the backfield. The big question: Can the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Sapp be as effective playing 60-plus snaps a game?

Florida

Who's Gone?
Reggie Nelson, S
The Gators lost nine starters on defense, but we're keying in on Nelson, who was a first-team All-America and was selected 21st in the draft by the Jaguars.

Who's Next?
Kyle Jackson
or Dorian Munroe will probably start. Jackson was largely missing from last year's secondary but has 11 career starts under his belt, while Munroe played in every game last year and played almost the entire SEC championship game after Tony Joiner was injured. That being said, don't sleep on youngsters Jerimy Finch and Major Wright -- Rivals.com's two top-ranked safeties -- and redshirt freshman Bryan Thomas.

The Verdict
Nelson helped mask the corners' mistakes a year ago, something you can't expect from this unproven group. Still, there's an ultra-talented stable of safeties to choose from. Don't be surprised if Finch or Wright steal the starting job before season's end.

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