AU FOOTBALL 2010 PREVIEWS: Parker’s decision key to Clemson’s season

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series previewing Auburn’s 2010 football opponents. This week: Clemson (Sept. 18). The series will run weekly.

Clemson outfielder/first baseman Kyle Parker has emerged as one of the best hitters in the ACC this season and has put himself in great position to be selected high in the June 7 MLB Draft.

You’d think that would mean absolutely nothing in regards to Auburn and Clemson’s premier non-conference football matchup in September, but it might just mean everything to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who may be forced to find a new quarterback one month before the game.

Parker, who completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2009, deflected questions about his professional future throughout Clemson’s spring drills, which culminated with the athletic Parker catching a touchdown pass, of all things, in the team’s spring game. Parker is projected to be as high as a first-round selection in June’s MLB draft, which would likely mean guaranteed millions.

Swinney, to quote Gene Chizik, is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

“We can sit around and worry about Halley’s Comet coming in August. We can dream up all kinds of scenarios,” Swinney said in a Greenville (S.C.) News article. “Kyle’s going to get drafted. Until we go through that we just don’t know.

“I’d be shocked if he’s not here, but I’ve been shocked before. Unknowns happen all the time that you’ve got to deal with. This football team needs him.”

If Parker does shock Swinney, the keys to Clemson’s offense would likely be handed to redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd, who, as his title indicates, has no collegiate experience. He did, however, receive plenty of work with Clemson’s first-team offense during the spring.

Parker, who was “living the life of a rock star” during the spring, frequently hopping on Clemson jets to go back and forth between baseball games and football practices, missed a few practices and a scrimmage. He also missed time while nursing a sore back, which opened the door for Boyd to get comfortable with an offense loaded with experienced linemen, but without a number of key playmakers from 2009.

“I think he finally became comfortable mentally, knew what it took to prepare, was confident in what he knew and in his preparation throughout the week,” Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier said in an Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail article. “He was able to really be a competitor and enjoy that.”

There is, of course, a Heisman finalist to replace as well on Clemson’s offense.

The departure of C.J. Spiller not only requires Swinney to fill one hole on his team. As many as four players might be called upon to fill the duties Spiller held as the team’s tailback, punt returner and kick returner. Jamie Harper put his best foot forward in the spring toward locking down the tailback job and even drew a Spiller comparison from Swinney in the process.

Swinney said Harper made the “kind of same type of improvement that C.J. made between his sophomore and junior years.”

While Harper is expected to provide a presence running between the tackles, sophomore Andre Ellington, who rushed for 86 yards, caught two passes and scored a touchdown in Clemson’s spring game, could be the closest thing the Tigers get to replicating Spiller’s big-play potential.

Aside from all the focus devoted to Parker, Clemson’s defense played a good second fiddle this spring, as it returned four of its top five tacklers from 2009 and three defensive linemen. The Tigers claimed one of the best defensive units in the country on their way to winning the ACC’s Atlantic Division last season, ranking 20th in total defense (314.29 yards per game) and 25th in scoring defense (20.43 points per game).

Senior Marcus Gilchrist has made the move to cornerback and sophomore Rashard Hall will take over Gilchrist’s spot at safety. Senior Bryon Maxwell and junior Coty Sensabaugh are expected to compete for the other cornerback job in the fall.

“It was pretty obvious to me that when we come together, we’ve got a chance of being a pretty good football team,” Swinney said in an April Greenville News article. “I’m real pleased with what we accomplished this spring. Hopefully, we can carry it over and have a great summer.”

That determination rests squarely on Parker’s shoulders.

agribble@oanow.com | 737-2561

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