Preview 2008 - Defense
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2008 Clemson Offense
2008 Clemson Depth
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2006 CFN Clemson
need to know:
While there are openings and uncertainty at linebacker, the rest
of the defense is in good shape with size and speed up front and
depth and experience in the secondary. CAT safety Michael Hamlin
heads a backfield that boasts four returning starters and a slew
of letterwinners. Even without DE Phillip Merling, the Tigers
have recruited well enough in recent years to dominate in the
trenches and create outside pressure. Mega-recruit DaQuan Bowers
has an ACC body and 15 spring practices behind him. One of the
most heralded recruits to ever sign with Clemson, he’ll join
Ricky Sapp to give the defense a scary and speedy pass-rushing
Ricky Sapp, 5
Interceptions: Chris Chancellor & Michael Hamlin, 4
Star of the
Senior NG Dorell Scott
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Redshirt freshman LB Brandon Maye
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S DeAndre McDaniel
Best pro prospect: Scott
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior SS
Michael Hamlin, 2) Scott, 3) Sophomore DE Ricky Sapp
Strength of the defense: The front four, the back
four, pass defense
Weakness of the defense: The linebackers
Projected Starters: While losing DE Phillip
Merling to the Miami Dolphins certainly stings, there’s enough
returning talent for the Tigers to survive up front. Some of the
pressure of replacing his production falls to junior Ricky
Sapp, a budding star at bandit with the speed off the edge
to be one of the league’s best pass rushers. A little bigger and
stronger at 6-4 and 240 pounds, he’s coming off a breakthrough
season, making 52 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, and
a team-high 22 quarterback pressures. e won’t be Merling in run
defense, but his ability to create pressure and drop back into
coverage make him a special player.
For the time being, the new strongside end is 6-3, 245-pound
junior Kevin Alexander, a career backup getting his first
opportunity to start. He played in every game a year ago, making
32 tackles, one tackle for loss, and a sack. A former linebacker
with a good burst, he’ll need to be far more productive to
remain atop the depth chart.
The defense is set on the inside with the returns of senior
tackles Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson. Scott
earned honorable mention All-ACC after making 50 tackles, five
tackles for loss, and three sacks in his second season as a
starter. A rock in the middle of the line at 6-4 and 320
pounds, he has the quickness to make plays in the backfield and
the attention of countless NFL scouts.
While Scott gets more pub, Jackson is no slouch on the defensive
line. Quicker and smaller at 6-2 and 280 pounds, he turned his
first opportunity for significant playing time into 37 tackles,
seven tackles for loss, and 14 quarterback pressures. When he
comes to play on every down, he’s tough to handle one-on-one.
Projected Top Reserves: Technically, true freshman
Da’Quan Bowers is listed as a backup, but that’s not
likely to last very long. One of the most decorated recruits in
school history, he was as good as advertised in the spring,
devouring blockers and climbing a step closer to a starting
job. At 6-5 and 265 pounds, he’s freakishly ready to make an
impact just a few months removed from high school.
Not to be forgotten is sophomore Kourtnei Brown, one of
the top weakside ends in the country in 2007. An explosive pass
rusher at 6-4 and 225 pounds, Sapp’s backup appeared in 11 games
as a true freshman, making a dozen tackles, two tackles for
loss, and the first of what should be many career sacks.
After playing most of his career at defensive end, 6-7,
270-pound junior Jamie Cumbie is making a permanent shift
inside, a move that’s a better fit for his style of play. As a
three-game starter a year ago, he had 29 tackles, three tackles
for loss, a couple of sacks, and 10 quarterback pressures.
Watch Out For ... Bowers to quickly develop into a
phenomenon in the ACC. He already has an NFL body, and had seven
tackles, four tackles for loss, and three sacks in the spring
game. If he doesn’t make the Freshman All-America team, it means
he missed significant time with an injury.
Strength: NFL-caliber talent. With Sapp and Bowers
on the outside and Scott and Jackson on the inside, the Tigers
have four linemen who might someday play in the pros. Minimum.
There’s also a host of top-tier youngsters buried on the
three-deep who’ll help bolster depth.
Weakness: Tackle depth. After Scott and Jackson,
the Tigers mostly have question marks on the interior. Players,
such as Cumbie, Miguel Chavis, and Jarvis Jenkins
have potential, but haven’t accomplished much at the position at
Outlook: The line boasts an ideal blend of outside
explosiveness and inside power, giving the program one of the
best front fours in the ACC. Although a tackle or two needs to
step up and provide support in the rotation, the Tigers have
little to worry about with this group.
Projected Starters: Four of last year’s top
linebackers are no longer on the roster, easily making this unit
the defense’s biggest concern. The most accomplished of the
returners is 6-1, 225-pound junior Kavell Conner, a
two-game starter who had 46 tackles and a couple of tackles for
loss. The favorite at weakside, he needs to start making a few
more big plays and distinguishing himself in order to stay
On the inside, 6-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Maye
made the most of his opportunity for more reps by delivering
play after play in the spring. He plays with a perpetual energy,
going from sideline-to-sideline to make a stop and enjoying the
spotlight. In a short period of time, he has shown enough to be
no worse than a vital part of the rotation this fall and the
possible catalyst for this group.
The front-runner at strongside is 6-1, 210-pound sophomore
Scotty Cooper, who had 33 tackles and started a couple of
games a year ago, including the bowl game. Undersized but very
quick in space, he made a quantum leap in field awareness and
system knowledge with last fall’s playing time.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jeremy Campbell
is primed for a bigger role, even if he can’t unseat Cooper at
strongside. At 6-1 and 225 pounds, he has been in on more than
100 snaps in each of the last two seasons, making 11 stops a
year ago. He was cross-trained in March and April, opening the
possibility he’ll also get snaps at weakside.
The permanent suspension of presumed starting middle linebacker
Cortney Vincent puts senior Josh Miller in a position to
play more than he has at any point in his career. A journeyman
who has seen action in 37 games, he needs to prove he’s more
than a live body or someone who can bust the wedge on special
Watch Out For ... Maye. Sure, he’s young and raw, but
he’s also the one linebacker who consistently stands out from
the crowd. He brings an energy and a confidence to a unit
that’ll need an extra helping of both this fall.
Strength: Range. By design, the linebackers are
small, fast, and capable of covering a lot of ground in a hurry.
They’re not maulers, but they’re the type of athletes who can be
used on the blitz or as pass defenders.
Weakness: Top-end talent. As it’s comprised now, the
Tigers have marginal talent at linebacker, and even more
concerns with the reserves. At least not this season, no one in
this group has All-ACC aspirations.
Outlook: When opposing offenses draw up a plan of
attack, this is the group they’ll look to expose. The
linebackers will make lots of plays, but not the game-changers
who Tiger fans have grown accustomed to over the years.
Projected Starters: With all four starters
returning to the nation’s 13th-ranked pass defense,
good luck throwing on the Tigers this season. The cornerbacks
will again be juniors Chris Chancellor and Crezdon
Butler. While the 5-10, 170-pound Chancellor lacks ideal
size, he has improved dramatically in his cover skills and
rarely misses assignments. He had 52 tackles, three tackles for
loss, and a team-high four picks, solidifying his standing as
the program’s most reliable pass defender.
The 6-0, 185-pound Butler has an edge in size and is one of the
best all-around athletes on this side of the ball. A quarterback
in high school, he’s still learning the position, but continues
to get better with each passing season. In his debut as the
starter, he had 61 tackles, three tackles for loss, and three
Senior safeties Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons
will form one of the best tandems at the position in the
country. Hamlin is an All-America candidate, a 6-3, 205-pound
enforcer who hits like a linebacker. Entering his fourth season
as a starter, he had a career-high 97 tackles, three tackles for
loss, and four interceptions. A terrific blend of size and
athleticism, the staff is still pushing him to be more of a
playmaker in his final year.
The 6-1, 210-pound Clemons has started 26 consecutive games at
free safety, proving to be both durable and one of the surest
tacklers on the team. He’s been top three in stops the last two
years, racking up 94 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two
interceptions as a junior. Another physical and agile athlete,
he’ll be a disruption against the run and the pass.
Projected Top Reserves: The backups are terrific,
led by the sophomore trio of CAT safety DeAndre McDaniel
and corners Byron Maxwell and Marcus Gilchrist. A
top recruit from a year ago, McDaniel got on the field right
away, making 33 tackles, four tackles for loss, two picks, and
six pass breakups. A special athlete at 6-0 and 200 pounds, he
spent time at safety, cornerback, and strongside linebacker in
the spring. Beginning in 2009, he’ll be a fixture somewhere in
the starting lineup.
In a lot of places, the 5-11, 180-pound Gilchrist would be
starting by now. Instead, he’ll keep pushing Chancellor for
playing time and serving an important role on the second team.
He got his feet wet as a true freshman, backing that up with a
terrific offseason, flashing improving cover skills.
Maxwell is another young defensive back with a bright future at
Clemson. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, he has ideal size and
physicality for a cornerback to along with good feet and ball
skills. Healthy for a change, he played in 13 games, posting 27
tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack.
Watch Out For ... the Tigers to finish the season
ranked in the top 10 in pass efficiency defense. Not only do
four starters return, but the line will provide constant
pressure and the ACC has a shortage of big-time passing attacks.
Strength: Depth and talent. Not only is the
two-deep fantastic and littered with future pros, but the
defensive backfield as a whole returns a whopping 13 players who
earned a letter a year ago. No one wants to be faced with
injuries, but the Tigers would survive the loss of a player or
two as well as any program in the country.
Weakness: Depth at free safety. Relatively
speaking, the weakest spot in the secondary is behind Clemons,
where junior Sadat Chambers has moved from running back
to provide some help.
Outlook: For the second consecutive year, Clemson
will be home to some of the best secondary talent in the ACC,
combining outstanding athleticism with intimidating hitters. If,
as expected, the Tigers are generating pressure up front, it’ll
be next to impossible to navigate past this group.
Projected Starters: Most of the pieces are in
place for Clemson to have one of the best special teams units in
the ACC. The fly in the ointment, however, could be senior PK
Mark Buchholz, an ace in close who has hit just 6-of-17
career field goal attempts from beyond 40 yards. While the leg
strength is there, he needs to improve his accuracy, or else one
of the highly-regarded true freshmen, Spencer Benton or
Dawson Zimmerman could get a long look in August.
No such worries exist at punter, where senior Jimmy Maners
returns after earning All-ACC recognition. In his first
season handling the job he averaged 42.8 yards per kick to hold
off Richard Jackson, the likely heir apparent.
The return game figures to be downright incendiary with
explosive juniors C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford
fielding kickoffs and punts, respectively. Spiller ranked No. 14
nationally a year ago, and Ford has the track speed to hit a
seam and be off to the races.
Watch Out For ... Buchholz. If Clemson is going to
live up to the hype and win the ACC, at some point during the
year, it’ll need Buchholz to nail a clutch kick from long range.
If it’s from outside 40 yards, all of Tigertown will be holding
its collective breath.
Strength: The return game. The healthy return of Ford,
who missed part of last year with a broken ankle, along with
Spiller gives Clemson two of the most exciting and explosive
return specialists in the country.
Weakness: Coverage units. The Tigers were
uncharacteristically brutal a year ago, finishing 88th
on kickoffs, 115th on punts, and allowing three
special teams touchdowns. Special teams coach Andre Powell is
working overtime to make sure last season’s futility was an
Outlook: The Tigers are in good shape provided
Buchholz doesn’t go into a prolonged slump or cost the team a
game during the year. Spiller and Ford are offensive weapons who
can score from long distance and play pivotal roles in the
battle for field position.