2012 Clemson Preview – Defense
Clemson S Jonathan Meeks
Clemson S Jonathan Meeks
Posted Apr 30, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Clemson Tiger Defense

Clemson Tigers

Preview 2012 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Shortly after getting embarrassed by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, 70-33, head coach Dabo Swinney knew his D needed an entirely new direction. He went big-game hunting, luring longtime Oklahoma assistant Brent Venables away Bob Stoops' staff. The coach has been brought east to do what his predecessors couldn't, maximize the gobs of blue-chip talent that Clemson perennially attracts from the local region's high schools. Venables will begin by simplifying his approach to defense so that his best athletes can do more reading and reacting, and less thinking. The Tigers harbor a talented mix, such as S Rashard Hall and DE Malliciah Goodman, but the results must be markedly better in all phases. That means a reduction in the blown assignments that caused so many of last year's long plays allowed. There was an air of competition in spring camp, most notably at defensive tackle, where four sophomores will continue battling for two spots.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Rashard Hall, 89
Sacks: Malliciah Goodman, Stephone Anthony, 2
Interceptions: Jonathan Meeks, 3

Star of the defense: Senior S Rashard Hall
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Malliciah Goodman
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Stephone Anthony
Best pro prospect: Hall
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hall, 2) Goodman, 3) Senior S Jonathan Meeks
Strength of the defense: Depth on the back seven, the safeties, athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Defensive tackles, pass defense, run defense, yielding big plays

Defensive Line

Not unlike the O-line, the D-line is retooling for 2012 as well. Three starters are gone, including recent NFL Draft picks Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson. Senior DE Malliciah Goodman is hoping to become this year's Branch by using his finale to attract the attention of pro scouts. At 6-4 and 280 pounds, he's carrying a little too much weight for a pass rusher, which is something he'll attempt to address prior to the opener. The former blue-chip recruit is running out of time to fulfill expectations, making just a dozen career stops for loss and five sacks.

The staff is giddy about the upside of Goodman's partner at end, 6-5, 280-pound sophomore Corey Goodman, one of the gems of the 2011 recruiting class. He's wearing the same No. 93 as former Tigers Da'Quan Bowers and Gaines Adams, ends he'll someday follow into the NFL. He laid a nice Year 1 foundation by making 29 tackles as a key reserve.

The situation on the interior is far less settled, and won't be until August when four sophomores will again lock horns. The battle at nose guard is pitting 6-0, 295-pound Grady Jarrett versus 6-4, 270-pound Tavaris Barnes. Neither player participated in more than 100 snaps a year ago. Barnes has the higher ceiling, and is better built for long-term potential in the trenches. Jarrett is blue-collar at his core, a real scrapper who overcomes a modest frame with a great motor.

Defensive tackle is shaping up as a race between 6-1, 290-pound DeShawn Williams and 6-4, 290-pound Josh Watson. While Watson was one of the key recruits from 2010, Williams has more experience, making 20 tackles off the bench last fall. He also holds an edge over the competition in fundamentals.

Watch Out For … newcomers Kevin Dodd and especially Carlos Watkins to compete for immediate playing time at tackle. There's an opening on the two-deep for qualified run-stuffers, and there'll be no age requirement to fill these spots. If the kids can beat out one of the sophomores, rest assured that it'll happen.
Strength: Potential on the outside. Goodman is playing for a contract. Crawford is on the tarmac. If both of the Tigers' defensive ends can bloom at the same time, they might be more disruptive than in 2011, when it was a case of Branch and everyone else.
Weakness: Uncertainty on the inside. Thompson and Rennie are leaving behind big holes to be filled, and the fact that the staff has yet to name starters at tackle is a troubling sign. The sophomores under the microscope are nice players, but none looks as if he's going to be a classic run-stuffer or penetrator so early in his career.
Outlook: It's a year of transition for the Clemson D-line, one more worry for new defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Since there's a dearth of sure-things up front, it's incumbent upon Goodman to stay healthy and finally put it all together, and Crawford to emerge into a playmaker. The tackles could be used by-committee, with a deep rotation being an almost certainty.
Unit Rating: 7


Clemson recruited the linebacker position about as well as anyone in 2011. Now, they really begin to reap the benefits. Sophomore Stephone Anthony , in particular, is on the verge of becoming one of the young stars of the ACC. The second-year Tiger has assumed the top spot in the middle, a year after starting three games and making 32 tackles, six stops for loss and two sacks as a rookie. He has a great base with which to build upon, an aggressive 6-3, 235-pounder with outstanding closing speed to the ball.

At strongside, 6-2, 220-pound junior Quandon Christian is looking to go from a temp worker in 2011 to a permanent employee this fall. While he's arguably the best all-around athlete of the unit, it didn't always show a year ago, when he made just 36 stops and 1.5 tackles for loss. The new defensive staff is hoping to do a better job of unlocking his potential in 2012.

The coaches will wait until August to decide between a pair of seniors at weakside, 5-11, 230-pound Corico Hawkins and 6-2, 220-pound Jonathan Willard . While Willard is not nearly as flashy as Anthony or Christian, he is arguably the most reliable of the linebackers, making 75 tackles in 2011. Rarely does he miss tackles, or gets caught out of position. Hawkins started 11 games last fall, and was third on the team with 80 tackles, but is vulnerable to be unseated. He, too, is a sound tactician, but has limited range and the size to be vulnerable in coverage.

Watch Out For … Anthony to take his first big step toward becoming a household name around ACC circles. The Tigers have had good, solid linebackers over the past few seasons. The sophomore, though, is a cut above the norm in Death Valley, an elite all-around athlete set to show he's no longer a rookie.
Strength: Range. No, not everyone in the group goes from sideline-to-sideline in a flash, but Christian and Anthony do, which is a heck of a place to start. Both players have excellent closing speed, an essential quality for pass coverage and letting loose on the blitz.
Weakness: Big plays. After failing to generate many sacks, tackles for loss or turnovers in 2011, the Tigers are looking for a lot more money plays out of their linebackers. There's more than enough experience and athleticism from this group to bank on an increase in the kinds of hits that can change a game's momentum.
Outlook: Clemson pretty much has to be better at linebacker than it was a year ago. Everyone is a year older, and the team's depth is vastly underrated. In fact, a whopping eight players at the position earned letters in 2011. There's a nice mix of youth and experience, and a potential bona fide front man if Anthony blows up as expected.
Unit Rating: 7.5


The defensive backfield is an awful lot like the linebackers—lots of familiar faces, a competitive atmosphere and a mandate requiring that the unit improve as a whole. There's an interesting competition taking place at safety, with 6-1, 210-pound senior Rashard Hall serving as the swing man at both positions. He missed spring drills with a knee injury, but expects to be back in time for fall camp. The veteran of 31 career starts is the most experienced—and arguably headiest—member of the Clemson D. Hall is a versatile all-around defender, posting a team-high 89 tackles in 2011, while raising his career interception total to 10.

If Hall plays free safety, 6-1, 210-pound senior Jonathan Meeks will be the team's strong safety. He, too, is multi-faceted, a big hitter who also boasts improving ball skills. In his first season as a starter, he collected 61 tackles, three picks and five pass breakups. If he can take his game to another level, it won't be lost on NFL scouts.

If, however, Hall lines up at strong safety, the free safety job will belong to 5-11, 190-pound Xavier Brewer. He's played a lot of football for the Tigers, including 23 starts over the last couple of seasons. The senior had 60 tackles in 2011, and gives the coaching staff plenty of options since he's already played corner, nickel and free safety during his career.

The secondary will begin the summer with defined starters at cornerback. The up-and-comer of the group is 6-0, 185-pound Bashaud Breeland who played in his debut with the program. He started seven games, making 53 tackles and a pair of picks, and has breakout potential in 2012. The sophomore has lockdown potential in his future, needing only to get more snaps and game experience.

Breeland expects to be partnered with junior Darius Robinson , a first-half starter before being set back by an injury. He wound up making just 18 tackles, and broke up a single pass. Although his cover skills are improving, the 5-11, 170-pounder would still benefit from a little more mass and muscle.

Watch Out For … Hall's bill of health. The senior hasn't been the same the last two years, with nagging injuries certainly being a factor. The quarterback of the secondary, he has a terrific all-around skill set, both physically and intellectually. However, Clemson needs him to be at full strength for a full year if the defensive backfield is going to reach its full potential.
Strength: Depth at safety. Two spots, three viable starters. And all of them are seniors. The Tigers are in an enviable position at safety, boasting the talent and experience necessary to support both the pass defense and the run D. Hall, Meeks and Brewer will be rock-solid leaders of this year's defensive backfield.
Weakness: Defending the end zone. This has become an uncomfortable trend at Clemson, which once again needs to be addressed. Over the past three years, the Tigers have yielded 65 touchdowns, highlighted by 26 a year ago. Even worse, over the final four games, opposing quarterbacks burned them 13 times. The D has to do a better job of stiffening when the other guys have entered the red zone.
Outlook: Clemson lost just one key player from last year's secondary, so it goes to figure that the pass D will be stingier in 2012. It better be. The staff is counting on improved play when the ball is in the air, and why not? The safeties will be among the deepest in the ACC, and the best still lays ahead for Breeland and Robinson. The ingredients are there for the Tigers to take a noticeable step forward in pass defense this fall.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

The Tigers welcome back an all-star placekicker and return man, but need to develop a new punter. Junior PK Chandler Catanzaro delivered a bounce back season in 2011, nailing 22-of-27 field goals and all but one extra point attempt. Plus, he was 9-of-12 on field goal tries outside of 40 yards to help earn a spot on the All-ACC Second Team.

The graduation of Dawson Zimmerman means senior Spencer Benton is slotted in to become the team's next punter. He's been a versatile member of the special teams over the years, handling kickoffs, while becoming the program's career leader in tackles by a kicker. No one questions the strength of his leg, but he needs to improve as a punter in order to hold off the future at the position, heralded true freshman Bradley Pinion . Clemson is home to two of the most exciting special teamers in America, sophomore kick returner Sammy Watkins and junior DeAndre Hopkins. Both are burners, with Watkins averaging 25 yards a return to earn Second Team All-ACC in his debut.

Watch Out For … Pinion to keep Benton from getting comfy atop the depth chart. The No. 1 punting prospect in the country last February is a 6-5, 225-pounder, with an economical and effective motion. He has dual-threat potential at some point in his career, but will have his sights set on becoming the team's punter in 2012.
Strength: The return game. Whether it's been Marcus Gilchrist, C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford or now Watkins, Clemson always seems to cultivate a gamebreaker in the return game. Both Watkins and Hopkins possess electrifying tendencies, splitting the seams and taking off to the races. They'll force other teams to rethink how they kick and punt the ball to the Tigers.
Weakness: Uncertainty at punter. A year ago, Clemson was 83rd nationally in net punting when Zimmerman was still in charge. Now that he has graduated, the Tigers are facing an even bigger quandary. The D needs all the help it can get, but might struggle to get support from the punt team.
Outlook: Clemson has a lot of flash on special teams with Watkins, Hopkins and Catanzaro. However, the unit will spend the next few months attempting to fine-tune some of the smaller, less visible aspects of the area, such as coaching up the coverage teams and the punters. The Tigers are excited to be bringing back last year's top three tacklers, Spencer Shuey , Lateek Townsend and Darrell Smith.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2012 Clemson Preview | 2012 Clemson Offense
- 2012 Clemson Defense  | 2012 Clemson Depth Chart  
- Clemson Previews  2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006