Clemson University

Scrimmage gives Clemson a look at rookies and veterans

CLEMSON -- It dawned on Clemson touted freshman running back Jamie Harper what he had stepped into when he surveyed the field Saturday.

There, in the lineup on this particular play, were senior quarterback Cullen Harper -- the preseason ACC player of the year -- plus two other running backs, senior James Davis and junior C.J. Spiller, arguably among the nation's top duos.

The Tigers' proven standouts scattered to various spots before the snap, a move designed to confuse opponents if and when Clemson unveils this personnel grouping in a game.

Jamie Harper, though, said he felt starstruck in a different sense as the various veterans crossed by.

"Man, it pumped me up," Harper said. "You're looking up to them. They give you no choice but to get better."

Seeing how the newcomers react when incorporated with the veterans was just one of the Tigers' goals Saturday during their first preseason scrimmage.

Banishing the key contributors to the sidelines to ensure their freshness and health once they broke a sweat ranked up there, too.

Clemson scrimmaged for nearly two hours Saturday morning, giving coach Tommy Bowden and staff a glimpse at where the team stands three weeks before its season opener against Alabama.

Or, in their case, where the team is folded at the waist, clutching their knees. After 10 practices in nine days, more than half in the scorching sunshine, Bowden said he could tell the Tigers were spent.

So, as is the routine anyhow, the experienced starters got a quick test, some goal-line work and then were granted an early jump on today's day off.

"They practiced hard," Bowden said. "There's just not a lot in them right now."

Thus the scrimmage yielded predictably mixed reviews.

The revamped offensive line, viewed as the main variable to Clemson's success, held its own -- when it was not committing false start penalties.

Cullen Harper went 12-for-20 for 140 yards and a touchdown, but threw two interceptions.

Conversely, Jamie Harper (36 yards on eight carries) continued to fuel speculation he might have a role in this year's crowded backfield after all. The 235-pound power back showed bounce outside the tackles, tallying the scrimmage's longest run (15 yards) as well as an estimated 50-yard kickoff return against Clemson's first-string coverage unit.

While praise continues to flow to junior defensive end Ricky Sapp, coordinator Vic Koenning punished the defense with up-downs afterward for committing numerous fundamental mistakes and conducting practice at a slower pace than desired.

With seven returning starters on defense, Koenning is worried the team's preseason accolades have sapped the sense of urgency from unspecified players.

"That's a big problem," Koenning said. "We call those happy-to-be-here guys. That was addressed (Friday night), and those aren't the guys we want.

"It goes back to the old analogy of a tiger out on the plains -- if they don't go out there and kill something, they're not going to eat. We've got to have that kind of starve."

• EXTRA POINTS: Bowden said freshman Dawson Zimmerman outperformed incumbent starting punter and Rock Hill native Jimmy Maners. ... After expressing the desire to develop a situational role for backup quarterback Willy Korn last season, Bowden said he no longer favors doing so because of Harper's distant hold on the starting job. "It's a little different plan this year," Bowden said. Korn went 11-for-17 for 82 yards and a touchdown. ... Freshman defensive end Da'Quan Bowers had three touch sacks, while reserve safety Sadat Chambers mustered seven tackles and an interception. Senior kicker Mark Buchholz made a 50-yard field goal.