2010 Clemson Preview – Defense
Clemson SS DeAndre McDaniel
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Clemson Tiger Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Clemson returns six starters from a solid D that ranked in the Top 25 in scoring and total defense last year. While second-year coordinator Kevin Steele is still surrounded by plenty of playmakers, the pool of talent won't be quite as deep as it was in 2009. Of greatest concern, he needs to tinker with the back seven, losing four starters and both cornerbacks. In place of Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor, the Tigers are going with a couple of seniors, converted safety Marcus Gilchrist and career reserve Byron Maxwell. Up front, the program is loaded with as much talent and depth as any school in the country. At tackle, it's time for Jarvis Jenkins to earn the All-ACC recognition that's somehow escaped him up to this point. At end, it's time for Da'Quan Bowers to begin parlaying all of his physical ability x1 into more sacks than he's produced in his first two seasons.
Star of the defense: Senior SS DeAndre McDaniel
Tackles: Marcus Gilchrist, 107
Sacks: Brandon Maye, Da'Quan Bowers, 3
Interceptions: DeAndre McDaniel, 8
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Da'Quan Bowers
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Rashard Hall
Best pro prospect: McDaniel
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McDaniel, 2) Senior DT Jarvis Jenkins, 3) Junior LB Brandon Maye
Strength of the defense: Pass defense, pressuring the quarterback, D-line depth, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: Lapses in run defense, the linebackers, new starting corners, third down defense, red zone stops
Projected Starters: All-Star Ricky Sapp is gone, but with three starters and a lot of familiar faces back, no one should have long faces for the Clemson D-line. The graduation of Sapp does place additional pressure on 6-4, 280-pound junior DE Da'Quan Bowers to deliver his breakout season. Hamstrung by injuries in his first two years, he hasn't reached his enormous ceiling, making just four sacks in 25 career games. His talent, however, is undeniable, blending the size, strength, and closing to blossom into a next-level strongside pass rusher.
The favorite to take Sapp's place at the other end position is 6-5, 265-pound junior Andre Branch. One of last year's most improved players and winner of the 12th Man Award on defense, he had 46 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks, and seven pressures. He plays from whistle to whistle and has a knack for being around the ball, two of the main reasons the staff is excited to see him on every down.
On the interior, both of last year's starters return, with an eye on all-league recognition. Senior Jarvis Jenkins will man defensive tackle, giving the Tigers a 6-4, 310-pound run-stuffer and active penetrator. Even while playing well above his ideal weight in 2009, he managed to lead all linemen with 69 tackles, adding 11 tackles for loss and seven pressures. Already quick off the snap, he figures to be even more explosive now that he enters the season in the best shape of his career.
The frontrunner to line up next to Jenkins at nose guard is 6-3, 305-pound junior Brandon Thompson. A starter in all but one game last season, he chalked up 50 tackles, two tackles, nine pressures, and three pass breakups. Thick and very strong in his base, he's tough to move off the spot and ideally built to clog up running lanes and push the pocket. Even if he gets jumped in the summer, he's going to play an integral role in the rotation.
Projected Top Reserves: Motivation for Thompson to stay in shape is being provided by 6-5, 285-pound senior Miguel Chavis, who pulled into a dead heat coming out of spring. A steady backup and veteran of three letters, he's improved steadily, making a career-high 28 tackles a year ago. While not flashy, he's an ideal player coming off the bench.
Behind Jenkins at tackle is 6-7, 290-pound senior Jamie Cumbie, another long-time veteran who has played a ton of football for the Tigers. He's appeared in 36 career games, leading all non-starters in 2009 with 53 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. A former end, he's uniquely built to swat away balls and obstruct the vision of quarterbacks looking to use the middle of the field.
The Tigers' top reserve at defensive end will be 6-4, 265-pound sophomore Malliciah Goodman, who is a starter-caliber lineman coming off the bench. The co-Rookie of the Year on defense in his first season on campus, he logged about 20 snaps a game, making 31 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks, and seven pressures. He's the total package physically, and a candidate to challenge Branch at weakside end.
Watch Out For … Bowers. Alright now, no one is ready to hit the panic button, but some folks are beginning to get antsy. While he looks like the second-coming of Julius Peppers in the ACC, the production has yet to match the physique. If he can remain healthy and focused, it's hard to imagine he'll remain quiet for much longer.
Strength: Depth of talent. Few teams in the league can fill out the two-deep with so many veterans as Clemson can in 2010. An incredible eight returning linemen played a minimum of 200 snaps last season, and former top prospect and two-time letterwinner Kourtnei Brown is also back after sitting out 2009.
Weakness: Run defense. It's the one area of the front wall that needs a little tweaking this fall. The Tigers yielded 151 yards a game on the ground in 2009, letting a few too many plays get beyond the first line of defense. With the talent this team has on the interior, it ought to be a fleeting problem.
Outlook: Clemson will once again boast enough depth, talent, and experience up front to boast one of the nation's better defensive lines. While the veterans are motivated by the scouts passing through town, the underclassmen simply want to earn more reps. If Bowers, Branch, and Goodman can spice up the pass rush, this group will set the tone for the entire D.
Unit Rating: 8.5
Projected Starters: The loss of two starters, including leading tackler Kavell Conner, has Clemson regrouping at linebacker this season. Even the lone regular, 6-3, 230-pound junior Brandon Maye, is in a fight for his job at weakside. A starter in each of his first two seasons, he's shown a penchant for constantly being around the ball, using his range and instincts to make 103 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, and 15 pressures. He also set a school record with five forced fumbles, testament to his violent sticks and boundless energy.
In the middle, 5-11, 230-pound sophomore Corico Hawkins has pulled ahead and is unlikely to be caught in the summer. A hard-hitting, hard-nosed run defender, he plays with good pad level and the right feel for the position to excel early in his career. As a rookie, he had 19 tackles and two sacks, despite appearing in just 119 plays. In a sneak peak of things to come, he also started the Music City Bowl and finished with seven stops.
The surprise frontrunner at strongside is 6-4, 210-pound redshirt freshman Quandon Christian, who has parlayed a solid offseason into increased playing time. An explosive all-around athlete, he'll be even more effective if he can pack on some more weight without sacrificing his burst. He plays with a lot of energy and has the hip explosion and change of direction to be a disruptive playmaker once the game starts to slow down.
Projected Top Reserves: Maye is getting all he can handle from sophomore Jonathan Willard at weakside. The 6-2, 215-pound athlete, with an increasing habit for being near the action, played with more confidence and knowledge during the offseason. Even if he can't unseat the incumbent, the staff will want to find a way to get his speed and frenetic playmaking ability on the field often.
Senior Scotty Cooper is the classic veteran at strongside, who'll be fighting for his first-time opportunity, but is best served providing depth and contributing on special teams. He's appeared in 37 career games, with six starts, making 16 tackles off the bench last season. At 6-1 and 220 pounds, he brings a nice mix of athleticism and leadership to the unit.
Watch Out For … for Christian to hold off the veteran at strongside in the summer. It's clear coming out of spring that the staff likes what the redshirt freshman brings to the defense, preferring his upside to Cooper's extensive edge in experience.
Strength: Range. By design, the Clemson linebackers are undersized, extremely fast, and capable of covering big chunks of turf in a small amount of time. No, they're not maulers, but they are the types of athletes, who are highly instinctive and can be used on the blitz or as pass defenders.
Weakness: Proven players. Let's see, there's Maye and then quite a bit of uncertainty on the second line of defense. With just one player with starting experience and two underclassmen in the starting hunt, this will be a transition year for the Clemson linebackers.
Outlook: With Willard, Hawkins, and Christian just now getting comfortable, the best days for this group are still about a year away. For now, the Tigers will be a little vulnerable, leaning heavily on Maye and holding out hope that the kids grow up without many stumbling blocks.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: The good news? The safeties are fantastic. The bad news? Both long-time starting corners have graduated. In an attempt to soften the blow of losing Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor, 5-11, 190-pound senior Marcus Gilchrist is being moved over from safety. One of the team's most versatile athletes, he stood out as a first-time starter, finishing second on the team with 107 tackles and breaking up six passes. With his role about to change, he needs to avoid getting caught peaking and prove he can cover as well as he tackles.
Joining Gilchrist on the hot seat will be 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Byron Maxwell, a physical cornerback who'll light up receivers with the ferocity of most safeties. An outstanding open field tackler, he's working on tempering his aggression and becoming a little more patient in coverage. A career backup, with 40 games of experience and zero starts, he was in on 36 tackles and made two picks in 2009.
The unrivaled star of the entire defense is 6-1, 215-pound senior DeAndre McDaniel, who put off a certain career in the NFL for one more season with the Tigers. Exceeding all expectations in his first season since switching from linebacker to strong safety, he earned All-American honors with 102 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks, and an ACC-high eight interceptions. The total package in the defensive backfield, he's a big hitter in run defense, yet also has the necessary ball skills and coverage awareness to excel when the ball is in the air. He's that rare safety, who'll discourage opposing quarterbacks from eyeing his spot on the field.
Making Gilchrist's relocation possible is 6-2, 195-pound sophomore Rashard Hall, who delivered an auspicious debut in his first year out of high school. Making it impossible to keep him off the field, he cracked the lineup midway through the season and finished with 63 tackles, three tackles for loss, and six interceptions. Beyond his obvious physical gifts and measurables, he's savvy beyond his years, fueling his ability to be in the right place at the right time.
Projected Top Reserves: Offering veteran depth at cornerback will be 6-0, 180-pound junior Coty Sensabaugh, an early favorite to start in 2011. He's appeared in 25 career games, collecting a career-best 14 tackles a season ago. One of the fastest players on the entire squad, he needs to get more physical and do a better job when the ball is in the air.
The future at strong safety belongs to 6-1, 205-pound sophomore Jonathan Meeks . The present will require him to learn as much as possible from McDaniel and improve his coverage skills and angles. One of the more physical defensive backs, he needs to refine his game this fall and begin taking baby steps toward becoming a more complete player.
Watch Out For … the new corners to be tested right out of the gate. Can Gilchrist and Maxwell handle the responsibility of replacing Butler and Chancellor? Beginning with the high-profile visit to Auburn on Sept. 18, opposing quarterbacks will be looking for first-hand answers to that pivotal question.
Strength: Ball skills. It was obvious a year ago, when the Tigers picked off a league-high 21 passes that this group of defensive backs played the ball like wide receivers. Best of all, last season's top thieves, McDaniel and Hall, return, ensuring a bunch of takeaways again this season.
Weakness: Defending the end zone. Yeah, Clemson was fantastic in pass defense a year ago, allowing just 51% of passes to be completed. However, digging a little deeper reveals that the Tigers still gave up 21 touchdown passes, including 10 in the final five games. They have to tighten the screws this fall, especially when opponents are driving.
Outlook: By anyone else's standards, the Clemson pass defense will be just fine in 2010. By its own, however, it's going to be down a bit from recent seasons. While the safeties are among the best in the country, the corners have a lot to prove in the wake of the graduations of Butler and Chancellor. The sky isn't falling, but this isn't going to be a vintage unit.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: Senior Richard Jackson is in the driver's seat at placekicker … for now. A lack of consistency, a theme throughout his career, continues to plague him, leaving the door open for the competition. While leg strength is never going to be an issue, hitting just 20-of-31 field goal tries will be, especially if he can't straighten things out from beyond 40 yards. A versatile specialist, he'll also serve as the team's backup punter.
Waiting for his chance if Jackson stumbles is sophomore Spencer Benton, who handled kickoffs and made his only field goal attempts from 28 yards out. If nothing else, the staff loves his leg strength, but unseating the incumbent will require better accuracy, especially after he missed 3-of-7 extra points.
Returning to punter for a second season is junior lefty Dawson Zimmerman, who averaged 39.1 yards on 55 punts. One of the nation's top recruits at punter in 2008, he needs to take his craft to another level, especially after the Tigers ranked 103rd nationally in net punting.
After ranking in the top 2 of ACC kickoff and punt returns, Clemson is in the impossible position of having to replace both C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford. Sophomore Andre Ellington and senior Marcus Gilchrist have some experience in the return game and could be called on to pick up some slack.
Watch Out For … Benton a mount challenge on Jackson in the summer. Not only does he have more raw potential, but the incumbent has clearly left the door open. The key will be convincing the staff that a placekicker with just one career field goal attempt is ready to unseat a veteran with a full season in the books.
Strength: The return game. Yup, even without the electrifying Spiller and Ford, Clemson has the athletes and the wedge blockers to gash the opposition with big plays. If given a chance, Ellington, in particular, has the breakaway speed to be lethal in the open field.
Weakness: Inconsistency of the kickers. Jackson missed 11 field goals and the team blew five extra point tries. Zimmerman averaged under 40 yards a punt. Neither installed much confidence in a coaching staff that's expecting more consistency from both this fall.
Outlook: As the program breaks in new return men and works on the coverage units, it's time for the punter and placekicker to do their parts to solidify this group. The final special teams grade will depend tremendously on the ability of Zimmerman and Jackson, respectively, to elevate their games from a year ago.
Unit Rating: 7
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2010 Clemson Defense |
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