2013 Clemson Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Clemson Tiger Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: After taking a much-needed step forward in Brent Venables' first season as coordinator, Clemson is determined to further improve in 2013. The Tigers went from 81st in scoring D to a more respectable 48th a year ago. Now, even with personnel changes, especially in the secondary, the program expects to be better since the holdovers should have a tighter grasp on the system and the staff. Venables will be working with a bunch of familiar faces, yet no slam-dunk superstars. A bunch of Tigers, though, such as DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, LB Stephone Anthony and FS Travis Blanks, are closing in on hitting their lofty ceilings. The program continues to recruit extremely well, filling the pipeline with some of the Eastern Seaboards premier young talent. Clemson figures to be sound in the front seven after using so many underclassmen last season. However, the secondary is a worry for Venables and his assistants. Three regulars are gone from a group that gave up too many big plays through the air in 2012.
Star of the defense: Junior DE Vic Beasley
Tackles: Spencer Shuey, 93
Sacks: Vic Beasley, 8
Interceptions: Multiple, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Darius Robinson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Travis Blanks
Best pro prospect: Beasley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Beasley, 2) Junior DT Grady Jarrett, 3) Junior LB Stephone Anthony
Strength of the defense: The D-line, generating pressure, athleticism, third-down stops
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, the secondary
After being forced to reload in 2012, the D-line returns nearly intact, save for the graduation of DE Malliciah Goodman. The coaching staff was really pleased with the play of 6-1, 290-pound junior Grady Jarrett, who went from little-used lineman to honorable mention All-ACC and the team's co-Defensive Player of the year. He slides well and plays with excellent leverage, getting in on 49 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, two sacks and 10 quarterback pressures. Of the interior linemen, Jarrett is the one most likely to be blowing up a play behind the line.
Partnering with Jarrett on the inside will once again be 6-4, 285-pound junior Josh Watson, a nine-game starter in 2012. He did a solid job of defending the run, making 54 stops, tops among linemen, 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Watson is only at the halfway point of his career, and prepares away from the field as if he plans on further evolving over his final two seasons.
Quality depth on the inside is not going to be a problem in 2013. Junior DeShawn Williams and sophomore D.J. Reader played plenty a year ago. The active 6-1, 285-pound Williams, in fact, started five games and made 50 stops, five tackles for loss, two sacks and nine quarterback pressures. Reader was only in on 236 snaps, yet he still made a remarkable 40 tackles. One of the most unique athletes on the roster, he's 6-3 and 335 pounds, but moves extremely well and is also a pitcher on the Clemson baseball team.
Clemson has one starter and one very exciting former backup in the rotation at end. Junior Vic Beasley did not start a game in 2012, yet he did lead the team with eight sacks, which ranked No. 5 in the ACC. He's a freakishly explosive athlete who plays as if channeling current Seattle Seahawk Bruce Irvin. Beasley erupts off the snap, uses his hands very well and is often too quick around the edge for opposing tackles. Yeah, the 6-3, 225-pounder could be vulnerable against the run, but the trade-off in the pass rush is worth it.
The starter at strongside has yet to be decided, but juniors Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes will both play plenty this fall. Crawford is a 6-5, 270-pound former can't-miss recruit of the Tigers. He started every game last season, contributing 47 tackles and six stops for loss, but just a lone sack. While he has an NFL frame and physique, he has to do a better job of finishing his pass rushes this fall. The versatile 6-4, 275-pound Barnes can play multiple positions, but is now settling down on the outside. He's an underrated, emerging talent who came off the bench to make 24 tackles a season ago.
Watch Out For … Beasley to go national. A complete defensive end? No. But Beasley is one of those scary, quick-twitch edge rushers who'll make a couple of plays each game that shift momentum. He got to the quarterback eight times a year ago, despite appearing on only 288 snaps. With an expanded role, he could lead the ACC in sacks.
Strength: Depth of talent. The potential for this group is immense since such a preponderance of sophomores were employed a year ago. Beyond just being talented on the front line, Clemson is deep as well, with a number of backups capable of starting for other teams. This figures to be the most assertive Tigers D-line in years.
Weakness: Stuffing the run. Clemson was a mediocre 57th nationally against the run in 2012, while allowing 4.2 yards per carry. The starting interior linemen are not very big, ranging between 285 and 290 pounds, Beasley can be liability when he's on the field. The Tigers could be moved off the ball against the O-lines on the schedule.
Outlook: Last season was a transition time for the defensive line. This fall, the unit flourishes into one of the league's better groups. Clemson sports wads of talent up front, from the speed of Beasley to the gap-busting quickness of Jarrett and Watson. Run defense still needs to be tweaked a little. But the Tigers are going to move the pocket from myriad angles, all of which makes life easier on the back seven.
Unit Rating: 8
Leading tackler Jonathan Willard has graduated, but the return of three players who started seven games in 2012 has the staff optimistic about its linebackers. Junior Stephone Anthony started the first seven games in the middle, where he's expected to line up this season. The 6-3, 235-pound former five-star recruit has shown flashes of potential, making 77 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss and three pass breakups, but was also benched over the second half of last year. It's time for Anthony to turn all of his physical ability into more consistency on the field.
Anthony was replaced in the lineup last season by 6-3, 230-pound senior Spencer Shuey, the leading candidate to play weakside this fall. Blue-collar and self-made, he's one of the grittiest of the Tiger defenders. He'll sift through traffic, never quit on a play and make sure tackles in the open field. Despite starting 2012 as a reserve, Shuey finished second on the team with 93 tackles, six of which were for minus yards.
Backing up Shuey is 6-1, 235-pound junior Tony Steward. Like Anthony, Steward was a former blue-chipper who has yet to live up to the hype. In his case, though, injuries have been a limiting factor. He returned from a second knee injury last year to make 26 tackles, including a team-high 12 on special teams.
Veteran Quandon Christian has played a lot of football in Death Valley. The 6-2, 225-pound senior has started seven games in each of the last three seasons, and is slated to handle strongside in 2012. He's one of the best all-around athletes at Clemson, regardless of the side of the ball. However, he's never been one to make a ton of plays, registering just 40 tackles, four stops for loss, two sacks, a pick and six quarterback pressures.
Watch Out For … which of the four-star recruits cracks the two-deep. The Tigers stockpiled more defensive talent in February, adding Ben Boulware to the middle and Dorian O'Daniel and Jayron Kearse to the outside. Someone is bound to redshirt, but someone will also get up to speed quick enough to enter the rotation.
Strength: Closing speed and range. No, not everyone in the group goes from sideline-to-sideline in a flash, but Christian and Anthony certainly do, which is a terrific place to start. Both players have excellent closing speed, an essential quality for pass coverage and letting loose on the blitz. Clemson, in general, is very athletic at the second level.
Weakness: Consistency. While Anthony might be the best of the group, he also finished last year as a backup. Christian is the veteran, yet he disappears for long stretches of games. Shuey was the most consistent linebacker over the second half of the year, despite being the most pedestrian athlete of the starters. Across the board, this unit needs to play at a higher level, especially against the run.
Outlook: Clemson is athletic and experienced at linebacker. Now it needs to parlay those attributes into more production on the field. Anthony, in particular, is one to watch very closely in 2013. He has an All-ACC ceiling that should start to be approached now that he's in his second year in coordinator Brent Venables' system. Shuey and Christian are the kinds of steady veterans who'll help set examples for the younger Tigers.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The secondary must replace three starters from a group that looks as if it'll be the weakest link of the 2013 D. The emerging star of the unit appears to be 6-1, 190-pound sophomore FS Travis Blanks, a starter in eight games of his rookie year. He's versatile, instinctive and more mature than his age might indicate. In his debut, the Freshman All-American met lofty expectations by making 51 stops and breaking up seven passes. Blanks has the right work ethic and physical ability to have NFL types scouting him by the fall of 2014.
The Tigers' strong safety is likely to be Robert Smith, a hard-hitting 5-11, 210-pounder. He understands the passing game, a byproduct of his days as a prep quarterback, but he's also raw, inexperienced and prone to getting jumped on the depth chart by one of the younger Tigers. Smith hasn't played a whole lot the last two years, getting in on just 14 tackles in 2012.
The identity of the cornerbacks? Onlookers will have to wait until the summer for answers. Neither spot has a winner. On one side, 6-0, 195-pound juniors Bashaud Breeland and Garry Peters are locked in a tight battle. Breeland started five games last year, bringing his career total to 12. He made 32 tackles and broke up three passes before being lost to an injury in the final two games. Peters saw his workload increase last year, including five starts that produced 20 tackles and eight pass breakups. He's had a rocky offseason from which he'll be trying to bounce back this summer.
Over on the other side, the battle lines have been drawn between 5-10-175-pound senior Darius Robinson and 5-10, 180-pound junior Martin Jenkins. Robinson has started six games in each of the past two seasons, but has had his development slowed by injuries in both 2011 and 2012. A year ago, he broke his ankle at a time that he was struggling. Through seven games, Robinson had made just 13 tackles with a couple of pass breakups. Jenkins returns to the team after missing all of 2012 to a hernia. He lettered his first two years, starting three games and breaking up six passes.
Watch Out For … the impact of the wave of newcomers. The Tigers signed eight rookies in February, none with higher expectations than Mackensie Alexander. The nation's seventh-rated cornerback possesses the maturity and physicality to be a major factor in the rotation right away.
Strength: Tackling. In general, this is a physical bunch of safeties and cornerbacks, few of whom are sheepish about stepping up and laying a licking on an opponent. The defensive backs are versatile and active, and eagerly support a run defense that often requires it.
Weakness: Consistency in pass defense. Clemson continues to have problems against the pass, ranking 71st a year ago. This is an ongoing issue for a program that's now yielded 88 touchdown passes over the last four seasons. The pecking order at cornerback has yet to be decided, and strong safety could be a worry. There's hope that Blanks and all of the precocious rookies can infuse more talent into the defensive backfield.
Outlook: The Tigers need a lockdown corner … badly. Save for Blanks, the defensive backfield is no better than average as the new season approaches. The hope around the program is that the competition at cornerback will bring out the best in the four upperclassmen vying for snaps. With Georgia and Aaron Murray up first on the schedule, Clemson doesn't have much time to prep for one of its biggest games of the year.
Unit Rating: 7
The Tigers welcome back one of the nation's better kickers, senior Chandler Catanzaro, who has been named All-ACC in consecutive years. The one-time walk-on has been a clutch performer for the program, hitting 40-of-46 field goals over the past two years, including 18-of-19 a year ago. He led the team in scoring with 111 points, and currently is the holder of 10 school records.
The Tigers are optimistic about the future of sophomore Bradley Pinion, one of the top-rated punters of the 2012 class. He's 6-6 and 230 pounds, with excellent leg strength and fundamentals. He got on the field sparingly last season, averaging 39.4 yards on nine punts, but did boom 18 touchbacks on 26 kickoffs.
The staff has yet to decide on its kick and punt returners, though junior Sammy Watkins figures to fill a role on kickoffs. While more easily contained in 2012, he remains one of the most explosive specialists in the game. Junior Adam Humphries led the team in punt returns last season, averaging 4.8 yards on 18 tries.
Watch Out For … Watkins to look more like the player who struck fear into the hearts of opposing special teams coaches in 2011. Few things clicked for the playmaker in his sophomore season, but he's entering this year with a new attitude and a focus on doing the things that whet the appetite of NFL personnel.
Strength: Catanzaro. Being a champion sometimes requires a kicker who doesn't flinch at the pressure of splitting the uprights when a game hangs in the balance. Catanzaro is just such a player. He's deadly accurate, and he's the guy Clemson wants trotting on the field when there are just a few seconds left on the clock.
Weakness: Kick coverage. The one area that failed the Tigers in 2012 was the kick coverage team, which ranked 105th nationally at almost 24 yards an attempt. Clemson needs to do a better job of tackling on special teams, preventing the opposition from starting with good field position.
Outlook: The pieces are in place for Clemson to sport one of the more complete special teams units in the ACC. Catanzaro is a returning all-star, who rarely misses, and Pinion is ready to show why he was one of the nation's most coveted high school punters a year ago. Now all the Tigers need is Watkins to channel his rookie self in the return game.
Unit Rating: 8
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2013 Clemson Defense |
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