Harbison spends most of spring just coaching, preparing for fall

by - Senior Writer -
McDaniel is a preseason All-American at safety

CLEMSON - What a difference one year can make.

Clemson secondary coach Charlie Harbison was new to the job last spring, and much of that time was spent trying to learn and install new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s system while also trying to learn about his new players.

This spring, however, was a different story, and Harbison said most of the time was spent just coaching and working on technique.

“In the secondary, in the back end, we're always going to have to work on technique and eyes and things of that sort because of the fact that we get in different positions,” Harbison said. “One thing that impressed me is we really worked a lot of technique work on our bump technique. I think we got some things in order there.

"As far as some things we have to continue to work on, it's the eyes and leverage and stuff like that. But what I was happy with was the fact that our guys got better as far as the details. They really know why we’re doing what we're doing, and they're communicating better. And they're playing together as a group.”

In replacing starting cornerbacks Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor, Harbison has plenty of pieces to choose from. Marcus Gilchrist spent last year at safety after playing corner the year before, and with the emergence of Rashard Hall at the safety spot, Gilchrist will more than likely see time at corner again this season.

"We moved people around to see if I could get the best combination on the field,” Harbison said. “We moved some people around to see how that would work, and I think it worked pretty good. Gilchrist is playing a lot of different positions, and we moved him around just to see. I think he's a player that can play anywhere.

"We moved [Spencer] Adams from safety to corner. That worked out good. He's only going to be better with reps. [Byron] Maxwell had a good spring. There were some things he was lacking ball-wise that we pushed him on, but he got better. I just feel like the group grew because of their second year in the system. They understand why we call what we call and understand the system better."

Maxwell seems to be locked in at one corner spot, with Gilchrist on the other side, and Harbison was asked how much he is counting on Xavier Brewer and Coty Sensabaugh to elevate their games in backup roles.

"I'm glad you asked that question, because those guys got a lot of snaps at both corner and nickel,” Harbison said. “You've got to always develop another guy. Gilchrist is moving on. And plus, you need a two-deep to keep guys fresh. Those guys really came along. "Brewer did some things - he matured a lot. Not to take anything away from Sensabaugh, but Brewer really stepped his game up in the spring and I was really impressed with him. Sensabaugh's technique got better on the outside. And Brewer got really strong on the inside. I needed that, and I focused on that. So I think it was good."

Considering Gilchrist’s experience in the defensive backfield, Harbison was asked if the ideal situation would have him playing the nickel back, and Harbison said it all depended on the opponent and the game plan, plus the fact that you want one of your leaders on the field as much as possible.

“You want to put him where there's some fire,” he said. “But you want to make sure you don't overload him. But at the same time, you want to get your best people on the field in some of the hot spots. For those guys [Brewer and Sensabaugh] are really going to help him. Then he can get rest and rotate. You don't want to wear a guy out, because it's a long season. And a lot of offenses now run no-huddle and speedball and all that. So you really want to be able to rest him some.

“Gilchrist is a dependable guy. Number one, he leads by example. He might not be real vocal, but he's a leader back there in the secondary and also on the team. Everybody leads in different ways. That's the way he does things. He's just steady. He's a special player. He's a special person, too. That's amazing to have a guy like that. He's a coach on the field."

The Tigers’ recent recruiting class included some highly-touted defensive back prospects, and Harbison was asked if the depth already on the field would preclude any of the freshmen seeing the field this fall.

"They're in control of that. If they can handle it, I'll play them. If they can't handle it, it's not best for me to play them,” Harbison said. “Meaning, if they can handle the system, if they can handle the pressure, they'll play. Some kids mature faster than others. I'll learn that with them being on campus and going through two-a-days and fall camp. I'm not going to throw a kid out there because I want to throw him out there. He's got to show me he can handle it. I can't just put a kid out there and hurt the team. Also, some kids can have some bad experiences. Then you have to overcome that. It's my job to protect my guys, but also grow them up."

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