Clemson Tigers Preview 2006 - Defense
Posted Jul 31, 2006

Clemson Tigers Preview 2006 - Clemson Tiger Defense

What you need to know ... The defense should be among the ACC's best if the secondary can overcome the loss of Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge. There are several good options at corner and reliable safeties in Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons. The linebacking corps should be tremendous with the return of Anthony Waters, Tramaine Bills and Nick Watkins, the team's top three tacklers from last year, while the defensive line has the potential to be sensational if Gaines Adams has another dominant year at end and Dorrell Clark can step up at tackle.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Anthony Waters, 109
Sacks: Gaines Adams, 9.5
Interceptions: C.J. Gaddis, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Gaines Adams
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Phillip Merling
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NG Jock McKissic
Best pro prospect: Adams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Adams, 2) LB Anthony Waters, 3) LB Nick Watkins
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, experience
Weakness of the defense:
Safety depth, size at outside linebacker

Defensive Line
The return of Gaines Adams and Donnell Clark for another year gives the line two good veterans to work around, while the rising young players of last year should make things even better. End Phillip Merling and tackle Jock McKissic are phenomenal young talents who'll grow into potential all-star talents, while Rashaad Jackson and Dorell Scott are good enough to start on the inside. Adams is the star of the show and should be one of the nation's premier pass rushers.
The key to the unit: All the sophomores have to keep improving and Gaines Adams has to be Gaines Adams again before making millions next year at the next level.

Defensive Line Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- DE Phillip Merling, Soph. - 22 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 2 broken up passes
The 6-5, 280-pound sophomore is a tackle-sized end taking over for Charles Bennett. He had a strong freshman year as a quality reserve in every game. A former tight end, he has the athleticism to go along with the size to grow into a disruptive force.

- DT Dorrell Scott, Soph. - 18 tackles, 2 sacks, 10 quarterback pressures
The 310-pound Scott is the team's biggest lineman and became a big-time interior pass rusher in his limited role. He can play either on the nose or at tackle. Expect him to be better against the run now that he's even stronger from another good year in the weight room and is projected to grow into the team's top tackle.

- NG Jock McKissic, Soph. - 18 tackles
McKissic had a good freshman year growing into a solid anchor on the nose. He's a strong 295 pounds and getting even stronger with room on his 6-6 frame to be a rock-solid 310 pounds. He was a key reserve last season and should be the teams top run stopper as the season goes on.

- DE Gaines Adams, Sr. - 55 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 15 TFL, 9 broken up passes, 29 quarterback pressures
He should probably be off to the NFL. The starter at the Bandit end plays a little bit of defensive end and a little bit of linebacker with the size at 265 pounds to be a top run stopper and the speed and quickness to be a great pass defender. He does a little of everything very well with a great talent for getting into the backfield on a regular basis. 

Top Backups
- DT Rashaad Jackson, Soph. - 39 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL
One of the team's rising stars, the 285-pound sophomore is a bigger option inside than Donnell Clark and has just as much quickness. He's a high-energy player and a consistent all-around defender who got in the backfield on a regular basis. He'll be starting very soon somewhere.

- DT Donnell Clark, Sr. - 11 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL
The 270-pound senior started over the first six games of last year before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season. He's an active run stuffer and a quick interior pass rusher, but he has to come back healthy. He's expected to be close to 100% by late summer.

- DE Brandon Cannon, Sr. - 4 tackles, 2 sacks
Known for his two sacks against Florida State, the 245-pound senior is one of the team's strongest defensive ends and will combine with Elsmore Gabriel to play behind Phillip Merling.

The corps will be one of the best in the ACC led by tackling machine Anthony Waters in the middle, who'll be in the mix for All-America honors if he plays like he has the last few seasons. The outside linebackers are light, but they can fly with Tramaine Bille and Nick Watkins sure to finish among the teams top tacklers again unless Antonio Clay takes over on the outside. Kavell Conner and Cortney Vincent are good prospects who'll battle to see who might start in 2007.
The key to the unit: Get the same production from the starting three and a bit more production against the pass.
Linebacker Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- Tramaine Bille, Sr. - 93 tackles, 1 sack, 5.5 TFL
Bille finished third on the team in tackles on the strongside after moving over from safety. He's a former running back with great athleticism, but he's a bit undersized at 6-1 and 200 pounds. He plays bigger than his size with 155 stops over the last two seasons highlighted by a 12 stop game in the win over South Carolina. With his experience he has to be better in pass coverage.

- Anthony Waters, Sr. - 109 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7 broken up passes, 5 quarterback pressures
His third season as the starter in the middle. the 245-pound senior has been a tackling machine in the middle and is fantastic in pass coverage. He's the ACC's leading returning tackler with 214 career stops and should finish as an All-ACC star with well over 300 stops. He's good enough to play any linebacker position at the next level.

- Nick Watkins, Jr. - 99 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL
Watkins returns on his weakside where he finished second on the team in tackles. He's built like a safety at 6-2 and 215 pounds, is one of the quicker linebackers, and is a sure open field tackler with tremendous range. He's one of the team's most disruptive special teamers.

Top Backups
- Antonio Clay, Soph. - 27 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Clay was a good reserve last season on the outside and should be even more of a factor in his second year on the strong side behind Tramaine Bille. He's lightning fast and should make more plays in the backfield while pushing very, very hard for the starting spot.
- Cortney Vincent, Soph. - 6 tackles, 1 sack, 2 broken up passes
The 235-pound sophomore spent last year as a reserve defensive end playing the Bandit position and now will move to the middle to play behind Anthony Waters. He'll have to battle hard to be a factor with players like Kavell Conner pushing for time..

Defensive Backs
Only one starter returns with the loss of Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge meaning there's plenty work to be done. There's no one with the speed of Hill to be a lock-down cover-corner, but former safety C.J. Gaddis and former running back Duane Coleman are promising corners and there's plenty of depth led by Sergio Gilliams. Depth at safety is an issue behind sure-tackling Michael Hamlin and lightning fast Chris Clemons.
The key to the unit: The new corners have to be consistent and depth needs to be developed at safety.
Secondary Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- CB C.J. Gaddis, Jr. - 59 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Gaddis started off at quarterback, moved to corner, moved to safety, and now will get the fill-time starting corner job on the field side to use his tackling ability. A far more natural corner, he's a big defender at 210 pounds with a great nose for the ball.

- FS Chris Clemons, Soph. - 33 tackles
One of the team's top special teams tacklers last year, the 200-pound sophomore will get the first look at free safety. He's big enough to play strong safety and fast enough to move to corner at some point. He's a tremendous athlete with some of the best wheels in the secondary.

- SS Michael Hamlin, Soph. - 55 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Hamlin became a good starter over the second half of last year and finished seventh on the team in tackles with the speed to play free safety if needed. He's the team's strongest defensive back and smart enough to grow into the leader of the secondary over the next few seasons.

- CB Duane Coleman, Sr. - 35 tackles, 1 sack, 2 broken up passes
The former starting tailback saw a little bit of starting time at corner last season and will hold down the job on the boundary side from day one. He's not polished yet and will get picked on early on, but he started to show promise at the end of last year turning into a strong tackler over the final three games.

Top Backups

- CB Sergio Gilliam, Sr. - 37 tackles, 1 interception, 3 TFL, 4 broken up passes
Gilliam has the experience to step in at starter if needed on the boundary side behind Duane Coleman. He's big, fast, and is a productive all-around defender. He doesn't have the athleticism of Coleman, but he'll be a key player in the rotation.

- CB Haydrian Lewis, Soph. - 6 tackles
Lewis saw plenty of action as a reserve and now will be one of the team's top reserve defenders behind C.J. Gaddis on the field side. He's not all that big, but he's physical and has great potential.

Special Teams
Jad Dean is one of the nation's best placekickers, but punter Cole Chason has to be far better considering all of his experience. Chansi Stuckey needs to do more on punt returns after averaging 7.4 yards per try, and Aaron Kelly has to do what he did last year and average 26.6 yards per kickoff return. The coverage units need to be better, and the punt protection formations need to be changed up.

The key to the unit: Get another big year from Jad Dean and hope for Cole Chason to get to around 40 yards per kick
Special Teams Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- PK Jad Dean, Sr. - 24-31 FGs, 34-35 extra points
Dean was one of the nation's most clutch kickers highlighted by a 6-for-6 performance to beat Texas A&M. He doesn't have a huge leg with his range topping out at 50 yards, but he hit five of his eight kicks between 40 and 49 yards.
- P Cole Chason, Sr. - 50 punts, 1,822 yds, 36.4 yards per kick, 13 inside the 20
Chason struggled with his consistency last season getting five kicks blocked as the Tigers finished 116th in the nation and last in the ACC in net punting. He put 13 inside the 20, but he has to get more blast on his kicks.