Is the secondary a primary concern?
|Sunday, July 10, 2016, 8:01 AM- -|
There aren’t a lot of question marks for Clemson’s 2016 squad, but the most glaring might just be the secondary.
Defensive backs coach Mike Reed lost starters Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green to the NFL, but some think this year’s secondary could be even better despite the loss of so much talent.
Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley was relatively unknown heading into last season, but is expected to be the leader in the backfield as he heads into his senior season. He said that the defense had a good season last year, but they have bigger goals this season.
“We were what - Top 10 – and we want to be number one. There are some things we have to refine if we want to be at the head of the line,” Tankersley said during the spring. “We have the guys but they need to step up. We need to be more disciplined. I think we lost consistency toward the end of the year. I think we need to get better as the year flows and we need to work harder.”
Tankersley said he believes they have the personnel to take the top spot in the country. However, the unit will be extremely young.
“I think we just have to grow up even more. We lost some great players in Jayron Kearse and Mackensie Alexander- those are some great dudes,” he said. “We just have to have guys like Marcus Edmond and Ryan Carter step up. They've been doing great this spring so far, but they just need to grow up. Jadar Johnson has been a great leader for us and that vocal guy and a guy who is very experienced and knows the game. I've been very impressed with him this spring.”
Fields – who came to Clemson as one of the top-rated cornerbacks in the country is ready to take the next step in his career, according to Tankersley.
“I just feel like he wasn't ready yet. He had the time he needed to grow up. He has the mindset, and he has the body to do it, but I think he needed to learn not to carry stuff from off the field onto the field,” Tankersley said. “I think I can tell him what I've been through - learn the system and go out there and try to be the best player he can be. He doesn't need to be Mackensie. He just needs to be Mark Fields. Not saying that Mackensie is a bad player to look up to, but he needs just to go out there and be his own man. He has all the qualities - he has the quickness, and he has the speed to go out there and be the best corner. He has it; he just has to go out there and show it and put in the extra work and film study.”
At safety, senior Jadar Johnson is expected to man one spot with Van Smith, Carter, Isaiah Simmons, Denzel Johnson and Tanner Muse competing at the other. Johnson is a veteran with 41 tackles, four interceptions and four pass breakups in 571 snaps (39 games). Smith – a sophomore – played in five games on defense as a freshman and logged an interception.
Despite a lot of youth, head coach Dabo Swinney said there is a lot of competition at both safety spots.
“When you flip it over to the safety you have some competition there that will make us better,” Swinney said. “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.”
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Mullen, Simmons and K’Von Wallace will all have an opportunity for early playing time because of the youth and inexperience in the secondary.
“I'm not a magician. I can't just 'poof' and have another one show up,” Venables said. “Because of our issues, numbers wise at corner Ryan Carter was a guy we had working there. Whether or not he has a chance to go back doesn't look great. All of those young guys we recruited and signed have to come in and be ready to contribute.”