Spring preview: Mix of veterans, youth compete in Clemson secondary


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Clemson brings back its entire depth chart at safety, including playmaker K'Von Wallace.
Clemson brings back its entire depth chart at safety, including playmaker K'Von Wallace.

Spring practice starts Wednesday for the reigning national champs ahead of a season carrying as high as any expectations in school history.

We're analyzing where the Tigers stand going into spring by position - examining the Tigers defensive backs:

Defensive backs

Roster (depth chart returners, freshmen)

A.J. Terrell - junior (6-2 190)

Kyler McMichael - sophomore (6-0 200)

Mario Goodrich - sophomore (6-0 195)

LeAnthony Williams - sophomore* (5-11 180)

Sheridan Jones - freshman^ (6-1 175)

Andrew Booth - freshman (6-1 188)

K’Von Wallace - senior (5-11 210)

Tanner Muse - senior* (6-1 230)

Denzel Johnson - senior* (6-0 205)

Nolan Turner - junior* (6-1 205)

Joseph Charleston - freshman^ (6-2 190)

Lannden Zanders - freshman^ (6-1 189)

Ray Thornton - freshman^ (6-2 198)

Jalyn Phillips - freshman (6-0 198)

* Redshirted

^ Early enrollees

Three questions

Who picks up where Trayvon Mullen left off this spring?: Trayvon Mullen and Mark Fields played a lot of football at Clemson and both are headed to the NFL, leaving AJ Terrell as the most experienced corner on the Tigers’ roster. Terrell was a third-team All-ACC player last season and has the talent to earn even bigger honors this season. His talent was on full display when he picked off Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the National Championship and returned the interception for a touchdown.

The question now becomes which player will start on the other side of the field.

Kyler McMichael and Mario Goodrich played the most out of the reserves last season. Goodrich was credited with seven tackles and three pass breakups in 113 snaps over 14 games while McMichael posted two tackles in 101 snaps over 12 games. McMichael played 28 snaps and recorded his first tackle in place of an injured Trayvon Mullen against Syracuse, his most extensive action of the season.

Both of those players will get long looks during the spring, but one player I’m anxious to see is rising redshirt sophomore, LeAnthony Williams. Williams was a consensus top-250 prospect nationally, with the highest ratings come from Rivals, which listed him as the No. 111 overall prospect in the nation, No. 11 in the state of Georgia and No. 11 at his position. However, he has played sparingly at Clemson and was passed on the depth chart last season and was credited with eight tackles in 73 snaps over seven games. However, we’ve heard that he took a step forward during bowl practice and has been working harder than ever since the end of the season. He will be an interesting one to watch – sometimes it takes a little maturity for a player to put it all together.

Veteran Brian Dawkins, Jr., redshirted in 2016, played in just one game in 2017, and two games in 2018 but will add depth to the rotation.

Freshman Sheridan Jones is on campus and has the talent come in and make an immediate impact. Jones was ranked among the top 100 players in the nation by ESPN.com and Rivals - ESPN.com ranked Jones as the 69th-best overall player, the second-best player in the state of Virginia and seventh-best cornerback in the nation. There is no doubt he will push for early playing time.

Five-star signee Andrew Booth won’t be on campus until June, but he will be another one to watch in August. - David Hood

Where do the Tigers stand at safety?: The Clemson secondary will have depth and experience next season, returning a total of 3,370 combined snaps from Tanner Muse, K’Von Wallace, Denzel Johnson, and Nolan Turner.

Muse was voted third-team All-ACC and was credited with 76 tackles (2.5 for loss), five pass breakups, 2.0 sacks and two interceptions in 664 snaps over 15 games (all starts). Wallace was honored as Honorable mention All-ACC and was credited with 55 tackles (1.5 for loss), seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception in 661 snaps over 15 games (all starts). Expect both to start this season.

Turner made the biggest strides in the group and was often on the field during obvious passing downs. His interception against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl was considered by many to be the death knell for the Fighting Irish. He was credited with 44 tackles (2.5 for loss), three pass breakups and an interception in 391 snaps over 15 games.

Johnson has been a valuable backup during his career and was credited with 40 tackles (2.0 for loss) and three pass breakups in 378 snaps over 15 games.

Newcomers to the group this spring are freshmen Ray Thornton and Lannden Zanders. - David Hood

Who could break out this spring?: From a national perspective, Terrell should be featured among All-American candidates as a junior.

Terrell led Clemson with three interceptions and seven pass breakups, seeing a defense-high 805 snaps last season. Per Pro Football Focus, Terrell led Clemson in coverage grades (82.3), ranking fifth in the ACC and fourth-best among returning cornerbacks. He ranks second-best among returning conference CBs in yards allowed per coverage snap (0.83), where Trayvon Mullen led the ACC (0.65).

Odds-on, Terrell sees a few fewer targets with Mullen no longer opposite him but he has shown an ability to make big plays in key moments.

Another breakout candidate in the newcomer area is true sophomore Kyler McMichael, who was a two-way star with Greater Atlanta Christian School. McMichael didn’t tally much on the stat-sheet but saw action in 12 games on special teams and over 100 snaps on defense last season - most notably stepping in for an injured Mullen in the Syracuse game and logging his first career tackle. McMichael has the athleticism to plug in at couple positions and contribute more this season. - Brandon Rink

Spring Preview: Quarterbacks

Spring Preview: Running Back

Spring Preview: WR/TE

Spring Preview: OL

Spring Preview: DL

Spring Preview: LB

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