|by Nikki Steele|
If Clemson wants to be considered an elite program, that statement will be put to the test in 2014.
Brent Venables’ defense took a step forward in 2013 and could be even better in 2014 despite the loss of Spencer Shuey, Quandon Christian, Darius Robinson, Bashaud Breeland and possibly Vic Beasley.
With spring practice, summer workouts, fall camp and 233 days until the ball is spotted, Swinney and Venables have plenty of time to figure out a depth chart; however, in the business of college football, we don’t like to wait so let’s take a look at how the Tigers defensive starting lineup might look on August 30th.
Even with the potential loss of superstar Vic Beasley at defensive end, Clemson could have the best defensive line that it’s had in quite some time and one of the best in the ACC.
Defensive end: Corey Crawford
Defensive tackle: Grady Jarrett
Defensive tackle: D.J. Reader or Josh Watson or DeShawn Williams
Defensive end: Vic Beasley or Shaq Lawson
The biggest question mark for the defensive line really regards depth – who will step in and provide depth at the end spots? Will freshmen Ebenezer Ogundeko and Dane Rogers be able to provide depth, or will Martin Aiken finally see meaningful snaps?
Tavaris Barnes has hinted on social media that he has played his final game at Clemson, but he could return for his senior season for experienced depth at end.
Will someone like Carlos Watkins move to an end spot due to the number of defensive tackles? Will tackle Scott Pagano find a way to break into the rotation at tackle?
Where do veterans like Kevin Dodd and Roderick Byers fit in? The starters appear to be somewhat set…the question is who will step in provide quality depth?
The Tigers will be replacing Christian and Shuey in the starting rotation at linebacker, but have experience at all of the linebacker positions.
Can Tony Steward and Kellen Jones, who should finally be healthy, contribute and make an impact in 2014?
SAM linebacker: T.J. Burrell
MIKE linebacker: Stephone Anthony
WILL linebacker: Tony Steward or Kellen Jones
Steward finally gets his chance to shine after injuries and playing behind Shuey hurt his playing time. Steward played 167 snaps this season, and logged 36 tackles. Ben Boulware will provide depth at the MIKE behind Anthony, who had a stellar bowl game against Ohio St.
The SAM position is perhaps the biggest question mark – against running teams or on running downs, Christian was on the field. Against the spread or on passing downs, Korrin Wiggins came in and played nickel, as did Martin Jenkins.
Could Kearse move to the Nickel-SAM position on a full-time basis? He has the size and cover skills, and could really grow into the position.
The defensive backs have been viewed as a weakness on Clemson’s defense over the last couple of seasons, but that criticism has mainly come because of youth and inexperience and a lack of depth. With several key pieces returning, could 2014 be the season that defensive backs become a strength of the defense?
Venables and defensive backs coach Mike Reed have a lot of options in the secondary. Who will show up and claim those spots?
Cornerback: Garry Peters or Martin Jenkins or Cordrea Tankersley
Safety: Jayron Kearse or Travis Blanks or Jadar Johnson
Safety: Robert Smith, Korrin Wiggins or Ronald Geohaghan
Cornerback: MacKensie Alexander or Marcus Edmond or Ryan Carter or Adrian Baker
The kicking game was a strength in 2013, but with the departure of Chandler Catanzaro, the Tigers will be looking for another Mr. Reliable.
Will freshman Alex Spence be able to come in and beat out the experienced Ammon Lakip?
Nikki Steele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org