Clemson University

Coming along slowly

Clemson freshman quarterback Willy Korn throws during his first practice.
Clemson freshman quarterback Willy Korn throws during his first practice.

CLEMSON -- Florida essentially thrust its rookie quarterback into spot tailback duty last season. Georgia threw its freshman star to the wolves only after exhausting its options, while Arkansas simply bowed to a mix of politics and alleged promises.

None of the three moves ignited their teams' passing games, validating the veritable word of caution offensive coordinator Rob Spence gives those expecting his prized pupil, Willy Korn, to be waiting in the wings as Clemson's knight in burnt orange armor.

In other words, Spence does not plan on inserting Korn in the Sept. 3 opener against Florida State just for the sake of inserting him.

"In my particular case, I believe we do have a starting quarterback here who has done an excellent job getting ready to lead our team, so I'm not going to script something for Willy at all," Spence said.

"To be frank, I hope he doesn't have to go out there and play because my preference has always been bringing along a player at that position very slowly."

Spence admitted he must choose his words carefully because his statement does not preclude Korn from playing a major role in Clemson's near future.

The pieces for a philosophical debate are already in place for where Korn's optimum value lies. And the discussion stands to intensify with redshirt junior starter Cullen Harper's successes.

Should Clemson use a year of Korn's eligibility if he is merely going to be serving as Harper's backup? Furthermore, if Harper thrives in his new role, how could the Tigers disrupt the status quo and then justify wasting a second year of Korn's eligibility -- half his career -- as an emergency plan?

"If that's the case, that's the best-scenario that can happen because we're winning games," Korn said. "But you really can't think about what's going to happen in the future because so many things can happen.

"Being the No. 2 guy, you're one injury away from getting on the field. That's the kind of mindset I have to have."

If for no other reason than the Tigers need him to be prepared for immediate action.

Simply put, it appears redshirting Korn could leave coach Tommy Bowden darned if he doesn't, gone if he did so before Korn was ready.

The recent decision to shift reserve quarterback Michael Wade to safety was the latest testament to the separation Korn has built as the No. 2 option behind Harper and ahead of third-string redshirt junior Tribble Reese.

With Korn clearly established as the quarterback who gives Clemson the second-best chance of winning, consider the following:

n Seven of the 12 primary starting quarterbacks in the ACC last season missed playing time because of injury or suspension.

Clemson's Will Proctor was among the five who gave way only when the outcome had been decided, although he came close to sitting upon having his bell rung early in the N.C. State game. Harper was sent to frantically warm up, but the Tigers kept Proctor in after allowing him to regain his senses during a timeout.

n Four preseason starters surrendered their jobs by performance alone.

Proctor, of course, was not among those. Yet it would not be out of the question for the staff to have a quicker hook with Harper -- likewise a first-year starter -- especially considering last year's plummet and the perception this could be a make-or-break season for Bowden's future.

n As with blue-chippers James Davis, C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford before Korn, among others, Bowden has said there is a certain level of recruit that programs cannot redshirt anymore for a multitude of reasons.

Six of the nine highest-rated quarterbacks by Rivals.com last year played as freshmen, and the trend is set to continue this year, with most of the others in the neighborhood of Korn's ranking (Michigan's Ryan Mallett, Oklahoma's Keith Nichol, Florida's John Brantley, Virginia's Peter Lalich and Pittsburgh's Pat Bostick) in line to avoid redshirts as well.

"It behooves us not to redshirt him," Spence said. "There's never an easy answer to whom you will redshirt and whom you won't. In this particular case, depth is a part of it. It's going to be more vital to prepare him to be in the fold earlier.

"It's a combination of factors. We make decisions based for the team but also for what's best for that individual."

Spence said it would be unfair to pin expectations on Korn based on how quickly Florida, Georgia and Arkansas incorporated their touted freshmen last season.

The schematic complexity and variety of those offenses were different, plus the levels of maturity and experience among all the quarterback parties involved varied from the Tigers' situation.

Most of all, Spence intimated that subbing in Korn would be a disservice to Harper, whom by all accounts has earned the starting job as opposed to inheriting it by default.

As for how the currently defined roles could impact the 2008 depth chart, Spence said the Tigers will cross that bridge later, if necessary.

"Today's problems and challenges are quite large enough that I don't ever look that far down the road," Spence said.

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