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Line, linebacker key in Tigers' '08 season

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By Robert Howey

If Clemson solves two question mark areas, the Tigers’ football team could be looking at an exclamation-point season in 2008.Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden, addressing 190 Tiger fans at the annual Lancaster County Clemson Club meeting Monday night at the Fairway Room, said the Tigers’ offensive line and linebacker are major questions coming out of spring practice.“Those are our biggest questions,” Bowden said. “We lose four starters in the offensive line and we could start two freshmen. We feel good about the talent.“They’re going to be good players, but there’s not a lot of margin for error,” Bowden said. “They’re young and a lot depends on how fast they grow up. It makes it tough when you open the season with a team like Alabama.”Bowden added linebacker is another area of concern.“We’re awful thin at linebacker,” he said “I feel good about our interior, but linebacker is a lot like our offensive line. The key for us on defense will be the development of some young linebackers.”Clemson, which returns 15 starters – 8 defense and 7 offense, is solid in other positions, especially quarterback where senior Cullen Harper has a season under his belt and a solid back-up in Willy Korn.“This year Cullen steps into the huddle with a presence and an aura,” Bowden said. “He’s in there with a lot of confidence and composure.”Harper, the first Clemson quarterback to lead the ACC in passing efficiency in 25 seasons, established 21 Clemson records last season.Bowden added the skill positions are sound.“We’ve got veterans,” he said. “We have good, skill people at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. I feel good about the people who surround our offensive line.”Clemson opens its 2008 season with the Crimson Tide in Atlanta.“That’s a great opportunity to market the program,” Bowden said. “That game will be a challenge, but it was too good of a situation to pass on. It’s the only college game on that night on national TV. It’s a great recruiting tool.”Bowden regards Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami as teams Clemson will challenge for league honors. The Tigers are among the elite vying for the ACC title.“That shows you have accomplished something,” he said. “A lot of people think highly of your program.”Bowden said the ACC championship is a goal.“We’ve been in the hunt, but we need to get in the title game,” he said. “We’d like to get our program in that position.”Clemson’s recruiting, which has come on the heels of facilities upgrades, has made an impact along with retaining staff members.“We’ve elevated the talent level,” he said. “The talent level is getting better. Recruiting is due to the stability of our staff.”Bowden praised the Clemson fans for the positive role they play.“Clemson is a great place to coach,” he said. “You make the program go. You have created a great atmosphere.”u Clemson basketball assistant Frank Smith also spoke, noting the Tigers have 49 wins over the last two seasons.“Last season was something to build on,” he said. “The more success we have the better attendance we have. Coach Purnell is doing a great job of leading us.“We want to continue to be a NCAA tournament team,” he said. “We’re looking to be a team traditionally in the NCAAs.”