Question #8: Who will start at cornerback?
When Justin Miller opted to leave early for the NFL, it did not catch anyone in Clemson offguard, but it did leave a hole to fill on defense. Sergio Gilliam and CJ Gaddis spent time at corner last year, but Gaddis made the move to cat safety leaving Gilliam as the only option with experience to play opposite of Tye Hill.
This position will be very important to Clemson’s success on defense in 2005. In 2003, Hill went threw the growing pains, while teams avoided Miller. Hill now assumes the role of the cover corner teams will avoid. With the lack of experience, it should come as no surprise that whoever starts opposite Hill will see action early and often.
Gilliam held on during the spring, despite solid play from redshirt freshman Chris Clemons. Gilliam looked better than expected in the spring. Often times with bigger cornerbacks like Gilliam, it is difficult to have enough agility in the hips to cover downfield. Gilliam does not have great hips, but he moved well during the spring. Clemons is smaller, but stronger than Gilliam. Clemons has good cover skills, but a potential move to safety is not out of the question. Clemons may have a bigger upside than Gilliam, but a brutal schedule offers him very little time to learn on the job.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Croley was expected to be a big factor in the mix as well. Croley seem to have trouble adjusting to defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s zone coverages. Croley is better suited to play man-to-man coverage. Croley is full of raw talent, but he has to adjust to the zone coverage for him to see a significant snap total in 2005.
Two true freshman will get a strong look at the start of practice. Ramon McElrathbey and Chris Chancellor will have a chance to avoid redshirts. It is likely one will avoid a redshirt, and not out of the question both could. Chancellor is undersized, but he has good ball skills indicated by his 26 interceptions in high school. McElrathbey is full of potential, and he is ahead of Chancellor going into fall camp. McElrathbey could be the best athlete of all the corners, but the staff will have to see how he adjusts to playing cornerback.
Gilliam holds the edge over Clemons. Clemons will continue to push Gilliam, and the battle could go all the way down to kickoff. Croley and the two freshmen are not expected to be factors until later in the year. The staff will focus on getting Croley, McElrathbey, and Chancellor ready as dependable backups. You always hope to stay healthy, but this is a position where depth needs to be established in August.