Brooks teaching defensive linemen better techniques, how to not be

by - Senior Writer -
Jarvis Jenkins dropped weight during the spring, and Brooks says he will play better because of it

CLEMSON – Dan Brooks, Clemson’s defensive tackles coach, has a folksy, down-home attitude that makes you feel like you’re in an old-time barber shop, just conversing about the mundane things in life with one of the boys.

However, steer the conversation to football and specifically the talent on the Tigers’ defensive line, and Brooks’ eyes light up and hetakes on the full persona of a college football coach.

Brooks was asked recently about the group, and he said that after evaluating the unit following spring practice, he feels they are on track to have a special season.

"We are really pleased. I really care about them so much,” Brooks said. “I've been around them for a year. They become your family. I had the whole group out at the house and we had a chance to visit with one another. We are really pleased with our group. I don't know what anybody else has got, but I wouldn't trade my group for anybody's in college football because we have good young people to work with. They've bought into the system of what we're trying to do. Obviously they've recruited well here.

"This spring I think that we were able to look at some things. As a coach you want to go what if and this and that, in case you were to lose somebody. We looked at Rennie Moore outside some. He's a guy who could play inside or outside. Brandon Thompson and Miguel Chavis really had good spring practices. It's good when you have competition. It's not good when a guy doesn't have someone there to push him. We all would like to know that a guy can motivate himself to a level, but competition is so good.”

Brooks said that in order to fairly evaluate all of the talent on hand, you have to play all of the players against the same people on the offensive line, and two players really stood out to him during the spring.

"If we had to pick a guy out of the whole d-line group, Miguel Chavis probably had the best spring of anybody, Brooks said. “Rennie can play the nose some. He can play tackle or end, so he made himself more valuable by doing that this spring. I also thought Jarvis Jenkins and Jamie Cumbie did well at tackle. They learned more and more about what you need to do down after down. We're pleased with their progress and where they are. We just want them to come on and be more consistent with what they're doing. I think you'll see both of them play a lot.

"The guy that we're pleased with as well - and he hasn't played a lot of defense - is Tyler Shatley. He really had a good spring. He put himself in a position to where we feel like he can be someone who can get some quality snaps. He played well in the spring game and in the scrimmages. I'm pleased with him.”

Brooks was asked what made Chavis improve so much over the spring, and Brooks laughed and said it was because he paid attention to his own job, and not the jobs of other players.

"He was really active but he played with his hands better. He got better at maintaining his gap,” Brooks said. “He's a guy who got nosey from time to time, looking at someone else's job. Don't' be nosey. Take care of your job. He got more and more consistent at winning the one-on-one battle, at playing with his hands, his footwork, and the things we talk about all the time. Miguel is a great effort guy. I feel like he came to 15 practices, to get better and to compete. I think he went about spring practice in the right way, someone who's trying to get better every day."

The two anchors on the defensive line are defensive tackles Brandon Thompson and Jarvis Jenkins, who each were well over 300 pounds at the of last season, and Brooks said it was important for the two to shed some of the excess weight in 2010.

"He [Jenkins] and Brandon did a good job with that,” Brooks said. “I talked with them and tried to give them examples of guys I had coached in the past. You see a lot of plays when you go back and break down your season where you might be a step away from making a play. That 10 or 15 extra pounds you're carrying may be the reason. I think they saw that. I give them some credit for buying in to what myself and coach [strength coach Joey] Batson talked to them about in January. I felt they were too heavy. I was on the road recruiting and right away I start getting great reports from coach Batson.

"Brandon probably lost 15 pounds. Jarvis probably lost that much as well. Now, they need to go through the summer and maintain that. There may be a day where they play in the NFL at 330 and that's fine. But for what we want to do and have guys run and make plays, I think the weight loss helped them some. You saw Brandon make some plays from sideline to sideline on screens this spring and he made some plays I don't think he would have been able to make last fall."

When Brooks was hired last year, he said he felt like the unit lacked fundamentals and his mission was to get the group to learn better techniques and make those techniques second nature, and he was asked if he felt like the group had made strides in that department.

“If you ask any coach, there's never going to be a time that I'll tell you every one of my guys are completely sound technique-wise,” he said. “If they were, they'd never need coaching. If this game was a perfect game, then nobody would ever score. It's obviously not that. That is a constant thing with defensive linemen. There are three things I try to stress with them all the time: hands, eyes and feet. You have to play with your hands nowadays. You have to play with your hands in order to get off of people. Don't be nosey. Put your eyes where they're supposed to be. We're mostly a gap control football team. Now, they do understand that. It's a constant thing. And then their feet: When you have a 310-pound offensive lineman on you, you can't cross your feet; otherwise you won't have any power. That's a constant thing.

"We're way ahead of where we were. Success is a journey. These guys are a journey. You talk with a lot of guys in the league and they feel like college coaches get too much into schemes sometimes instead of coaching fundamentals. But our guys - this spring in what we want them to do - I feel like they're well ahead of where they were [last year].”

Brooks then ended the conversation by saying what he expected out of the group in 2010.

"We want to be the best defensive line group in the country,” he said. “How do you do that? Every individual has to improve. It's not what coaches call [scheme-wise]. It's about understanding a scheme and know where you fit it and also doing it technically sound. But again, they're way ahead. Way ahead."

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