2009 Clemson Preview - Defense
Clemson CB Crezdon Butler
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Clemson Tiger Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Dabo Swinney’s best recruits of the offseason haven't worn
helmets in years. He lured Kevin Steele away from Alabama,
giving Clemson one of the nation’s premier defensive
coordinators. While it’s not as if the Tigers have been
underachieving on this side of the ball, his presence and track
record ensure that they’ll remain one of the ACC tightest
defenses. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be welcoming back a mess
of really talented players from a unit that allowed under 300
yards and 18 points a game a year ago. Save for a need to bag
more sacks, Clemson has no glaring weaknesses on D. It’s stout
versus the run, gives up no ground in pass defense, and stiffens
better than anyone in the red zone. Steele inherits no less than
eight All-ACC candidates, headed by Da’Quan Bowers up front,
Kavell Conner at linebacker, and Chris Chancellor at corner.
Steele’s pristine reputation as an assistant won’t be in
jeopardy with this crew.
Star of the
Senior CB Chris Chancellor
Kavell Conner, 125
Ricky Sapp, 2.5
Interceptions: Chris Chancellor, Crezdon Butler, 4
Player who has to step up and
become a star:
Junior SS DeAndre McDaniel
Unsung star on the
DT Jarvis Jenkins
Best pro prospect:
Sophomore DE Da’Quan Bowers
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Chancellor, 2) Bowers, 3) Senior LB Kavell Conner
Strength of the defense:
Stuffing the run, pass defense, red zone defense
of the defense: Getting to the quarterback
Although Dorell Scott must be replaced in the middle of the
line, the Tigers feel very good about their situation up front.
Six players who started at least one game in 2008 return, headed
by 6-4, 275-pound sophomore
Da’Quan Bowers. A
man-child at defensive end, he has an enormous upside that’s
about to be approached. In his first year out of high school, he
wasted little time cracking the lineup, finishing with 47
tackles eight tackles for loss, a sack, and a Gator Bowl MVP
award. With his size and speed, he’s an ideal strongside end,
harassing the quarterback and clamping down in run defense.
Assuming he can get back from last November’s ACL tear, 6-4,
240-pound senior Ricky
Sapp will bookend Bowers, giving Clemson a pair of Bamberg
(S.C.) High School graduates at defensive end. The fastest
linemen off the edge, he gets off the snap in a hurry and has
scary closing speed. Still, he needs to finish the rush better,
collecting 28 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and just a pair of
sacks before being lost with the knee injury.
One of the
bigger surprises of last fall was 6-4, 305-pound
Jarvis Jenkins, who
went from a little-used freshman to a stout run stuffer as a
sophomore. Now, in his third year, he’s poised to make a push
for All-ACC honors. Fueled by athleticism and explosive first
step, he erupted for 36 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, a couple
of sacks, and seven quarterback pressures.
hit the line last September, 6-2, 315-pound sophomore
Brandon Thompson was
forced to remove his redshirt and play in the final 12 games. He
showed glimpses why he was one of the most sought after lineman
of 2008, making 25 stops, five tackles for loss, and a sack.
He’s very strong and has the solid base to stand his ground at
the point of contact, ingredients of a budding run stopper.
Projected Top Reserves: Whether or not
he starts a game, 6-3, 255-pound senior
starter-quality defensive end a great insurance policy for
Sapp’s rehabbed knee. He’s played a ton of football over the
last three years, starting 10 games in 2008 and making 34
tackles and three tackles for loss. A former linebacker, he
plays with excellent and has the upper body strength to manage
Jamie Cumbie was
eyeing a breakthrough season in 2008, but injuries to both
wrists forced him to redshirt after the opener. A converted
defensive end, he’s uniquely built at 6-7 and 270 pounds to bat
down passes and obstruct throwing lanes. While not your typical
space-eater, he has particular on third down for his ability to
Watch Out For ...
Bowers to blow up. He was feeling his way through as a rookie,
yet still made an impact and finished on a high note, collecting
three tackles for loss in the Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska. If he
can turn some of those quarterback pressures into quarterback
sacks, he could be a force up front for Clemson.
Stopping the run. After allowing just 127 yards a game and seven
rushing touchdowns, the Tigers might be better against the run
this fall. In Jenkins and Thompson, they’ve got a pair of
powerful wide-bodies, who aren’t easily moved off their blocks.
Weakness: Sacks. With the talent this team has up
front, 14 sacks in 13 games is woefully unacceptable. Too often,
the ends over ran the play, allowing quarterbacks to step up and
escape the pressure. It’s imperative that the ends do more than
flush the pocket, turning more of those pressures into sacks and
Outlook: The talent and depth
is in place. Now, the defensive line needs to produce for a
dozen games. The Tigers will be just fine against the run, but
Bowers, Sapp, and Alexander have to do much better than the 3.5
sacks they produced a year ago.
The Tigers went with a youth movement at linebacker in 2008,
which will pay big dividends in 2009. All three starters are
back, and no lettermen of relevance ran out of eligibility.
Senior Kavell Conner
was a smashing success in his debut as a full-timer, leading the
team with 125 tackles, six of which were behind the line of
scrimmage. From his weakside position, the 6-1, 225-pounder
plays tough and fast, showing keen instincts for getting to the
As debuts go, the one spun by 6-2, 225-pound
sophomore Brandon Maye
wasn’t too shabby either. In his first year without a
redshirt, he solidified middle linebacker for the Tigers, making
87 tackles, five tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. A
high-energy, sideline-to-sideline defender, he showed a knack
for sifting through the wash and popping the ball-carrier.
After being a spot starter in his first two seasons, 6-1,
215-pound junior Scotty
Cooper is in line for a promotion at strongside. One of the
best athletes of the group, he plays with great range and
intensity without losing control of his assignment. A decent
pass defender as well, he had 28 tackles a year ago and started
Projected Top Reserves: The veteran leader of the
reserves is 6-1, 220-pound senior
Jeremy Campbell, a
three-time letterwinner and a special teams contributor. A
steady producer with 32 games of experience on the resume, he
was in on a career-high 31 tackles last season.
Jonathan Willard is being groomed as the successor to Conner
at weakside in 2010. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he has loads of
speed and potential, but will need to shake off some rust,
having played just half a season of football over the last two
Watch Out For ... more heat. New defensive
coordinator Kevin Steele wants his players to be more physical
and aggressive, and this collection of athletes has the skill
set to wreak havoc from different angles on the field.
Range. By design, the Tiger linebackers are undersized, fast,
and capable of covering big chunks of turf in a small amount of
time. They’re not maulers, but they are the kinds of athletes,
who are highly instinctive and can be used on the blitz or as
Weakness: Physicality. In the
box, the linebackers are prone to being bullied, especially when
linemen float beyond the first level of defense. Maye is the
biggest member of the rotation, and he only goes 6-2 and 225
Outlook: A major concern heading into
2008, the Tigers have solidified this unit thanks to the
emergence of Conner and Maye. Cooper needs to be more than just
an occasional contributor, and depth will be a concern unless a
few of the kids grow up real fast.
The program will be looking to retool at safety after Chris
Clemons and all-star Michael Hamlin graduated. In response to
the need, 6-1, 200-pound junior
DeAndre McDaniel is
being moved from linebacker to strong safety, where his size
will no longer be a hindrance. A tremendous athlete, he plays
with intensity and is one of the hardest hitters on the team.
Despite being somewhat miscast a year ago, he still managed to
make 77 tackles and four tackles for loss, and has an All-ACC
ceiling as soon as this fall.
Bridging the gap at free
safety is versatile 5-11, 190-pound senior
Sadat Chambers, who
has lettered on both sides of the ball and has started to get
comfortable in the defensive backfield. He moves well in space
and will play bigger than his size. As a reserve in 2008, he was
in on 168 snaps and made a career-high 21 tackles.
Returning together at cornerback for one final engagement is the
senior tandem of 5-10, 165-pound
Chris Chancellor and
6-0, 185-pound Crezdon
Butler. Chancellor has 30 career starts, gradually becoming
the type of pass defender, who has attracted the interest of NFL
scouts. He has the speed and hips to lock down the other team’s
best receiver, and the best ball skills of the defensive backs.
Over the last two years alone, he’s broken up 18 passes and
picked off eight.
Butler shares a lot of Chancellor’s
characteristics. He, too, has been a dependable starter over the
last two seasons, using his quickness and instincts to jump
routes and stick to his man. He rarely gets burned, and has the
size to be an effective run defender, by cornerback standards.
An active all-around player, he enters his final year with 147
career tackles and a dozen takeaways.
Reserves: Somehow, the staff is going to find a way to
get 5-11, 185-pound junior
Marcus Gilchrist off
the sidelines and into the fray. A backup the last two seasons,
it’s getting harder and harder to keep him out of the huddle. He
has 21 tackles, showing off the explosiveness and big hits that
portend an uptick in activity.
Butler’s backup entering
the season will be 6-1, 200-pound junior
Byron Maxwell, a
physical corner who’ll light up receivers like most safeties.
While not the athlete or pass defender that Chancellor and
Butler are, he’ll force receivers to short-arm passes, and makes
the most of his opportunities. Despite not starting a single
game in 2008, he still had 54 tackles, three tackles for loss,
and four breakups.
Watch Out For ... Chambers to
struggle to keep his job. The staff experimented toward the end
of spring by giving Gilchrist some reps at free safety. Don’t be
surprised if that continues again in the summer. He has more
upside and natural, and if he looks comfortable, he may have a
starting assignment by September.
Cover skills. When playing Clemson, you better be prepared for a
lot of close contact. The Tigers give away very little room,
pressing receivers and redirecting a slew a passes. Last year’s
team was No. 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense, picking
off 19 balls and allowing a mere 5.2 yards an attempt. This
year’s edition has a chance to be every bit as stingy.
The safeties. Hey, you can do a lot worse, but there is some
concern now that Hamlin and Chris Clemons are gone. Although the
coaches love McDaniel’s makeup, he still has to prove he can
make a smooth transition after years of being a linebacker.
For the third year in-a-row, Clemson will be home to a dynamite
defensive backfield and one of the best collections of talent in
the ACC. It’s become a trend in these parts. Yeah, the safety
issue needs to be addressed, but the way the program has
recruited in this area, it’s a hurdle it can clear. Against a
schedule that’s short on potent passing games, the Tigers will
again have one of the nation’s best pass defenses.
A new punter and placekicker are being sought, which has kept
special teams coordinator Andre Powell busy in the offseason.
The favorite to succeed Mark Buchholz at kicker is redshirt
freshman Spencer Benton,
who has great pop in his leg, but has work to do with his
accuracy and is a complete unknown in pressure situations.
Replacing Jimmy Maners will be sophomore Dawson Zimmerman,
who actually got a dozen opportunities to punt as a rookie,
averaging just over 36 yards. One of the nation’s top recruits
at punter in 2008, he, like Benton, has great leg strength, now
needing to fine tune the little things in his craft.
worth knowing junior Richard Jackson because he’s a
former high school All-American and a capable backup at punter
and placekicker. Yeah, he lacks consistency, but you can do a
lot worse as far as reserves go here.
In seniors C.J.
Spiller and Jacoby Ford, the Tigers boast two of the
most explosive return men in the country. Spiller is the front
man, but both players have the jets to hit a seam and be off to
the races with just a sliver of daylight.
Watch Out For ... the
development of Benton. While the program loves his potential,
it’s also holding its breath about entering the season with a
freshman at such a vital position. If he buckles at the prospect
of kicking in front of 75,000 fans, it could cost Clemson in the
Strength: The return game. With
Spiller and Ford handling punts and kickoffs, the Tigers have
two of the most exciting return guys in the country. With
support from the blockers, Spiller, in particular, has the gifts
to be an All-American on special teams.
Inexperience of the kickers. Although Zimmerman punted some in
2008 and both were coveted recruits, neither has much relevant
experience at this level, particularly Benton. Jackson better
remain limber all year because it wouldn’t be a shock if his
number is called at some point during the year.
always a little dicey when the anchors of the special teams are
first-time punters and kickers. Clemson will excel with its
return game and coverage units, while holding its breath that
Benton and Zimmerman are ready to perform like veterans.