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For head coach Tommy Bowden, the operative word going into his seventh season is "new." A new offensive coordinator in Rob Spence. A new defensive coordinator in Vic Koenning. A new defensive line coach in Marion Hobby.
Firing three coaches after a 6-5 season, Bowden sent a message that six wins is not sufficient. His team played well while winning five of its last six games, but the ugliness of a 1-4 start could not be ignored.
With the expanded ACC more rigorous than ever -- and new South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier two hours down the road -- Bowden feels the urgency to avoid getting left behind.
Linebacker Leroy Hill used up his eligibility and cornerback Justin Miller bolted for the NFL, leaving two huge defensive voids. Replacing linemen Eric Coleman and Maurice Fountain won't be easy, either.
Then there's the offense, which produced few big plays while choking and sputtering through 2004. After watching the Tigers average just 107.6 yards rushing, Bowden hired Spence primarily to shore up the running game and create balance.
Bowden's seventh Clemson team could be his most intriguing. Spence, who left Toledo after a successful four-year tenure as offensive coordinator, has introduced new ideas and schemes to an offense that lost its edge.
"In this system, they take the handcuffs off," said receiver Curtis Baham.
After years spent meddling in the offense, Bowden has given total control to Spence -- who has, in turn, given more authority to quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Spence will allow Whitehurst to read defenses and change plays at the line. That's one of several significant changes made by Spence, whose philosophy is a mix of the West Coast and Run-and-Shoot.
The biggest weakness might be the receivers. Chansi Stuckey, Kelvin Grant and Curtis Baham have much to prove and could be challenged by incoming freshmen if they don't produce.
Spence is placing a huge emphasis on tight ends. Using two, three and even four tight ends, he aims to provide good protection for Whitehurst while creating favorable matchups in the passing game thanks to a heavy dose of motion.
Tailback Reggie Merriweather is back after blossoming as a sophomore. His line loses starting guard Cedric Johnson and center Tommy Sharpe, but the Tigers have accumulated some depth up front thanks to redshirting and good recruiting.
Clemson doesn't have anyone who can replicate Hill's combination of speed, vision and savvy at linebacker. The Tigers also won't be able to replace Miller, who skipped his senior season after becoming a dynamic defense and special-teams threat.
Clemson will try to fill the linebacker void by committee, led by Anthony Waters and Nick Watkins. Incoming freshmen Antonio Clay and Josh Miller could earn playing time early.
Inexperienced junior Sergio Gilliam is penciled in at Justin Miller's cornerback spot, but he will be pushed by redshirt freshmen Chris Clemons and Brandon Croley.
The Tigers suffered two big losses up front in Coleman and Fountain, but there's some good depth in place thanks to heavy rotation between the first- and second-team lines last season.
The most interesting subplot with the arrival of Koenning is the addition of the "bandit" end position, which is a hybrid player in the Julius Peppers mold who can drop into coverage and allow the defense to disguise and change fronts. Junior Gaines Adams is the clear leader to take on this role.
Miller was one of the nation's most dangerous return men, and the Tigers probably don't have anyone as dynamic. But they have talented and elusive players who can be dangerous -- namely Stuckey and C.J. Gaddis.
Clemson has a solid kicking tandem in Jad Dean and Cole Chason. Dean solidified his starting role by making 12-of-15 field-goal attempts in '04, and Chason averaged 40.2 yards per punt with 18 landing inside the 20-yard line.
After watching his offense sink to unprecedented lows last year, Bowden hired Spence to "fix the machine." How quickly the Tigers pick up Spence's offensive philosophy could determine how well Clemson fares.
The first half of the schedule is unforgiving. The Tigers started 1-4 last season before winning five of their final six games, and a similar start in 2005 isn't out of the question.
This doesn't appear to be a team that's capable of challenging for an ACC title, but the infusion of new ideas could make things interesting. Spence is an innovative coach who is capable of restoring an edge to Clemson's offense.