April 19, 2006
CLEMSON -- What's wrong with Will Proctor?
That's what some were asking after Clemson's spring game, when Proctor's numbers didn't exactly create overwhelming confidence that he'll be a suitable replacement for departed quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.
Proctor, a fifth-year senior who coaches believe will be a better fit than Whitehurst in coordinator Rob Spence's offense, threw almost as many interceptions (three) as completions (four) in the spring game. The picks were thrown on three consecutive passes, including one that was returned 35 yards for a touchdown by cornerback C.J. Gaddis.
It's probably not wise to place abundant emphasis on a spring game that saw Clemson split into two teams for a game-like setting. The offensive line struggled at communication and protection as a result of the format, which was devised to make the game more fun for players and fans.
But even though the game probably didn't provide a telling window into what to expect this fall, seeing Proctor's inaccuracy had to be at least a little unsettling. His ability to make certain throws under duress is really the only major question coaches have about the player who backed up Whitehurst for two seasons.
Heading into spring practice, Proctor was not a huge concern for Spence and his staff. Of more importance was establishing depth and continuity at the tight end position and finding a capable backup to Proctor.
In terms of leadership, athleticism and running the offense, Proctor might be the least of Spence's worries. Whitehurst's drop-back, pocket-passer style wasn't the best fit under Spence, who prefers his quarterbacks to be mobile and offer an added dimension on play-action, bootlegs and rollouts.
Proctor benefited greatly in 2005 when Whitehurst was hobbled with a shoulder injury. Proctor guided the first-team offense during practices for most of the season, and that experience -- not to mention his game-day action against Texas A&M and Duke -- was invaluable.
Still, Proctor needs to prove that he can beat defenses with his arm as much as with his feet. He showed off a nice deep ball in the convincing win over Duke, but it has yet to be determined whether he can muscle in a tight throw against the Florida States, Virginia Techs and Boston Colleges of the world.
There's probably a reason Proctor wasn't asked to throw downfield while playing the entire fourth quarter of the come-from-behind victory over A&M. He's done it all during practice, but coaches still are curious to see if he can do it under extreme duress in a hostile environment.
This offense has a multitude of weapons, so most of Proctor's passes in 2006 probably will consist of high-percentage throws. But there inevitably will be a fourth-quarter, third-and-eight play on which Proctor will have to sit back in the pocket and fire over the middle to a receiver who's guarded closely by a defensive back and a linebacker.
Can he do it? Everyone will know on Sept. 17, by which time the Tigers already will have played at Boston College and at Florida State.
LEGGETT REMAINS IN ODD LIMBO
Last summer, after Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett was pursued by Texas A&M and Oklahoma for their head coaching vacancies, Leggett and athletic director Terry Don Phillips announced that they had agreed in principle on a contract extension for Leggett.
Phillips was on vacation at the time, and Leggett seemed confident that the deal would be done soon after the AD's return.
"I made a commitment to come back without something in writing," he said at the time in a newspaper report. "So that shows I have some faith and some confidence. Not many people would do that. Hopefully, they'll want to show that they want us around."
Some 10 months later, Leggett still doesn't have an extension. And it's not a sure thing that he'll get one after this season.
The 52-year-old Leggett, who was 581-251 in his 13th year with the Tigers after last week's 10-5 trouncing of South Carolina, is in the fourth year of a five-year contract. Just before this season started, he and Phillips reportedly worked out a deal that would give Leggett more than $90,000 worth of increases to his annual package.
But athletic department insiders said Phillips isn't banking on giving Leggett an extension after the season. In short, he's going to wait and see what becomes of this year's team before he commits to a long-term deal. That's a bizarre change of heart considering that, in July, Phillips said in a published report that he was considering giving Leggett a five-year extension through 2012.
It's not too difficult to pinpoint the general reason for the impasse. Leggett believes that the staff at Clemson should make something close to what is paid to the staff at rival South Carolina, whose coaches make substantially more.
Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner has a contract through 2012 that pays him $320,000 annually, with incentives that can push it to $490,000. Even after the recent increases, Leggett's package is worth $240,000, with an additional $104,000 possible via incentives. Leggett's two assistants make far less than Tanner's.
Given that Clemson is consumed with building the $56 million WestZone Project at Memorial Stadium, Leggett probably won't get his wish of being on equal financial footing with South Carolina's staff. That's unless, of course, the Tigers manage to make a run to -- and through -- the College World Series.
If the Tigers get to Omaha and seriously contend for their first national title, Leggett could force Phillips' hand. But if Clemson falls short of Omaha for the fourth straight year, it's hard to envision Phillips offering Leggett what he wants.
HOOPS: SMART CHOICE FOR PURNELL?
It took Clemson basketball coach Oliver Purnell less than a week to hire a replacement for recruiting coordinator Kevin Nickelberry. It'll take longer to determine whether Shaka Smart can recruit the caliber of players needed to keep the Tigers competitive in the ACC.
The 29-year-old Smart, who joined the Tigers after three years at Akron, was at Clemson briefly in 2003, after Purnell left Dayton for Clemson. But Smart, then the team's director of basketball operations, left almost immediately for the position at Akron.
Smart said he plans to expand the geographic footprint of the Tigers' recruiting efforts. Under Nickelberry, an outstanding recruiter who became the head coach at Hampton in late March, Clemson recruited primarily in the Southeast. Smart, a native of Madison, Wis., wants to expand to territory that is most familiar to him, in the Midwest.
Signing high-caliber players from another region might be a stretch, particularly considering Clemson's obscurity on the college basketball landscape. But the lure of the ACC is strong, and that's what Smart is banking on.
Time will tell whether he's as adept on the recruiting trail as Nickelberry.