Depth issues in the secondary? Swinney says no


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Mark Fields has matured since the start of last season
Mark Fields has matured since the start of last season

CLEMSON – Clemson fans may be worried about Clemson’s secondary depth, but head coach Dabo Swinney says the Tigers have both depth and talent in the back end of Brent Venables’ defense. Add in a little competition, and he likes what he sees.

Swinney spoke to the media following Monday’s practice and he announced that redshirt freshman defensive back Kaleb Chalmers had been dismissed from the program following last week’s arrest on drug possession charges. Add in the loss of cornerback Adrian Baker (torn ACL) earlier in camp and the attrition caused by the loss of three safeties following the season and many are wondering if the Tigers will have enough players to line up once the season starts.

However, Swinney said he’s liked what he’s seen and that the players are making every rep count.

“Every rep matters and everything we do counts. We are going to start getting into our heavy scrimmage work Wednesday and we will have a competitive day Friday and then another scrimmage next Wednesday,” Swinney said. “And then we come back that next week we will have some team-type of development work and then we'll play the spring game.”

He then added that competition will create depth.

“In the meeting rooms they're competing. In the flex line they are competing. In the individual lines they are competing. The group periods they are competing,” he said. “Everything. And when you look at what's going on at defensive end - it's awesome. I didn't have that last year. Guys were trying hard, but it's hard when you have guys like Shaq (Lawson) and (Kevin) Dodd and then all freshmen. It's hard when you have those types of players and then all freshmen.

“This is a different situation - they are all talented and capable of competing with each other. They'll make each other better. And we will get guys ready and get some depth where you're not having to hold your breath about the next guy. We had that on the offensive line last year and it made us better. We had that at defensive tackle last year and it made us better.”

But what about the secondary?

“I think it will be that way at corner and it will be that way at safety. We have some young guys at corner, but that's why we go recruit them,” he said. “We've got nine guys that can play corner for us and nine guys that can play safety, and that's counting Ryan Carter, who can go both ways. I feel good about it. With Mark (Fields) and Cordrea (Tankersley) and Ryan (Carter) and (Marcus) Edmond and then you throw in the young guys we have some competition there and have what it takes to be successful.

“When you flip it over to the safety you have some competition there that will make us better. We’ve got some good experience that's mixed in there with Van (Smith), a little bit of veteran flavor there and got a little bit of experience last year to go with Jadar (Johnson). Korrin (Wiggins) will be back. (Tanner) Muse - I'm very pleased with where he's at right now. And then Denzel (Johnson) and Ryan can play there, too. And then you bring in (Isaiah) Simmons and you bring in Nolan (Turner) and those guys to add into that and I think it will help us.”

Swinney said the coaches are making sure the younger players understand the defense and as a result are going at a slower pace this spring.

“I think the biggest thing is that right now we have to go at their pace. We can accelerate the learning curve but they've got to be able to get it,” he said. “It doesn't matter what we know as coaches. It's what they know. That's one of the things I was talking to the staff about this morning - I'd rather pump the brakes on some installation and let's get good at what they know. We're not going to get them all the way ready to go play Auburn in 15 days of spring ball but we've got to bring them as far as we can get them and really build some confidence. I'm pleased with where we are now. It's not rocket science. It's guys taking ownership. It's guys going above and beyond and putting some work in on their own. It's a good group. The competition is what I like. Even though you've got some inexperience mixed in, the competition that's going to be built throughout the spring and the summer and fall camp will produce a good group that will be ready to play.”

Carter will stay at both corner and safety for now.

“He'll work both. Carter can play. We have a lot of confidence in him,” Swinney said. “He can play the field. He can play the boundary. He can play either safety. He's working some, but we still want to come out spring - he's looked very natural at safety. It's instinctive to him and a lot of that comes because he's played a lot of nickel. That is tied together. Corner is something he's very comfortable with. He's the flip guy there. K'von [Wallace] will be another guy that we think - we've got to figure out where he is mentally and let's get him in the best spot to help us this year. If he can be that hybrid guy like Marcus Gilchrist, which is what we see him as, that will be great. We haven't lost Baker. He's just out right now, but he'll be back.”

One player that has stood out so far this spring is sophomore corner Mark Fields.

“He's more serious. He was very immature and playful when he got here last year,” Swinney said of Fields. “Kind of Johnny Joe Cool. He had to figure out that you've got to work and that you're not entitled to anything. He's just made a decision that he wants to be a great player and I think he's bought into to what he's got to do to make that happen. He's just more serious and more focused and has a much better understanding of what it's going to take. I'm really pleased with Mark I think he can be a really good player. He has a chance to be a really, really good player. Hopefully, he'll stay the course, but so far so good.”

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