Spring questions for the Clemson defense

by - Senior Writer -
Replacements for Rennie Moore and Brandon Thompson at defensive tackle will have to be found this spring.

I call this weekend one of the worst of the year.

The Super Bowl was last weekend and all football is just a distant memory. College baseball starts next week, as does NASCAR and some of the major league baseball training camps. Yes, we have college and NBA basketball and golf has provided some pretty good moments, but it just isn’t the same.

With that in mind, it’s never too early to take a look at some of the spring storylines for the Clemson football team. Spring practice heats up in three weeks, and there are some position battles to watch.

We will take a couple of installments to look at the questions, and in this one we will start with the defense, including punting.

Q: What kind of impact will new defensive coordinator Brent Venables have on his defense, and will tackling be a major focal point?

The Tigers hired Venables away from Oklahoma in the hopes that he could breathe some life into a defense that was shredded at times last season against teams not named Virginia Tech. Venables was hired by Swinney because he favors running the 4-3, but in today’s game team’s don’t stay in that base defense as much as they are running the nickel and dime formations in an effort to combat the rise of spread offenses. The Tigers have had issues with running quarterbacks and with stopping the option, but many of the issues were because this team simply hasn’t tackled well. Will Venables bring more of a hard-nosed approach to the tackling dilemma, or will the team be allowed to continue “thud” tackling, where the defender merely wraps up a ball carrier instead of taking him to the ground?

Q: Where will the depth come from at defensive end?

Clemson has returning starter Malliciah GoodmanMalliciah Goodman
Jr. Defensive End
#97 6-4, 280
Florence, SC

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back and also returns potential stud Corey CrawfordCorey Crawford
Fr. Defensive End
#93 6-5, 280
Columbus, GA

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at the end spots. Past those two, however, the pickings are slim. Vic BeasleyVic Beasley
RS Fr. Linebacker
#3 6-3, 235
Adairsville, GA

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(6-3, 235) has bounced around during his Clemson career – from tight end to a failed experiment at linebacker to defensive end last year. The hope is that he has found a home for his obvious athletic gifts at defensive end and can provide some depth. Beasley was available to play last season, but garnered just 16 snaps in nine games. Roderick ByersRoderick Byers
Fr. Defensive End
#92 6-3, 275
Rock Hill, SC

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is a redshirt freshman out of Rock Hill who has the size (6-3, 275) and drew favorable reviews in the fall. He has to be ready to step in and play immediately. There will be help coming in the form of the 2012 recruiting class, but none will be on campus in the spring.

Q: Who is going to play defensive tackle?

Clemson lost two starters in Brandon ThompsonBrandon Thompson
Sr. Defensive Tackle
#98 6-2, 310
Thomasville, GA

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and Rennie MooreRennie Moore
RS Sr. Defensive Tackle
#94 6-3, 265
Saint Marys, GA

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, and Tyler ShatleyTyler Shatley
RS So. Defensive Tackle
#43 6-3, 295
Icard, NC

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has been moved to the offensive line for the spring. That leaves DeShawn WilliamsDeShawn Williams
Fr. Defensive Tackle
#99 6-1, 290
Central, SC

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(138 snaps, 25 tackles), Tavaris BarnesTavaris Barnes
RS Fr. Defensive End
#6 6-4, 270
Jacksonville, FL

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(seven tackles in 73 snaps) and Grady JarrettGrady Jarrett
Fr. Defensive Tackle
#50 6-0, 290
Conyers, GA

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(two tackles in 61 snaps) as the main holdovers who saw action in 2011. Jerome MaybankJerome Maybank
Fr. Defensive Tackle
#96 6-4, 345
Pawleys Island, SC

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is huge (6-4, 345) and the coaches have been high on him from day one. Josh WatsonJosh Watson
RS Fr. Defensive Tackle
#91 6-4, 290
Wilmington, DE

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(6-4, 290) was highly-rated coming out of high school, and he certainly looks the part of a big-time defensive tackle, but didn’t see a lot of action last season. How he and Maybank and Tra ThomasTra Thomas
RS Fr. Defensive Tackle
#95 6-0, 290
Wadesboro, NC

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(two games, one tackle) develop during the spring could go a long ways towards determining how much depth the Tigers have here. Signee Kevin DoddKevin Dodd
Fr. Defensive Line
# 6-5, 280
Greer, SC

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is already on campus and will have a shot at proving he can help this spring. Help is also coming in the fall, with the arrival of 2012 signee Carlos WatkinsCarlos Watkins
Fr. Defensive Line
# 6-4, 285
Forest City, NC

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, who certainly has all the tools to contribute right away.

Q: What will the depth chart at linebacker look like coming out of the spring?

There is no question that Clemson’s linebackers were a liability in 2011. However, freshman Stephone AnthonyStephone Anthony
Fr. Linebacker
#12 6-3, 235
Polkton, NC

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acquitted himself well when he saw the field (32 tackles in 292 snaps) and he had the only two – that’s right , the only two – sacks by a Tiger linebacker last season. He started in nickel situations, and this spring could be his time to step up and earn the starting job at middle linebacker. Incumbent Corico HawkinsCorico Hawkins
Jr. Linebacker
#42 5-11, 230
Milledgeville, GA

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had 80 tackles in 692 snaps a year ago, and has experience. Lateek TownsendLateek Townsend
Fr. Linebacker
#20 6-2, 215
Bennettsville, SC

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was originally scheduled to redshirt, but that was lifted for the fifth game and he wound up having an impact on special teams, collecting 16 tackles. However, he saw just three snaps as a linebacker, but this is the type of player that Venables could have an impact on. Quandon ChristianQuandon Christian
RS So. Linebacker
#34 6-2, 220
Lake View, SC

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started at one linebacker spot and had 36 tackles, while Tig Willard started at the other outside spot and had 75 tackles. Can the three starters (Hawkins, Christian, Willard) hold on against the youngsters (Anthony, Townsend, B.J. GoodsonB.J. Goodson
Fr. Linebacker
#44 6-1, 235
Timmonsville, SC

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, Justin ParkerJustin Parker
So. Linebacker
#8 6-1, 225
Port Royal, SC

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)? The wild card of course, is Tony StewardTony Steward
Fr. Linebacker
#7 6-1, 245
Hastings, FL

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, who the coaches hope they can get a redshirt for after he hurt his knee again.

Q: What happens in the secondary?

Safety Rashard HallRashard Hall
Gr. Safety
#31 6-1, 210
St. Augustine, FL

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played on guts and guile last season, and he will miss the spring after recent surgery to clean up his knee. This gives 2012 signee Travis BlanksTravis Blanks
Fr. Defensive Back
# 6-1, 180
Tallahassee, FL

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(already on campus) a shot to come in this spring and prove that he belongs in the rotation this fall. Xavier BrewerXavier Brewer
RS Jr. Defensive Back
#29 5-11, 190
Jacksonville, FL

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moved from corner to safety late in the season, and he said during bowl practices that he would like to stay there during the season. Brewer’s greatest attribute is his versatility-he can play safety, corner, nickel back, and the star position in dime situations. Jonathan MeeksJonathan Meeks
Jr. Safety
#5 6-1, 210
Rock Hill, SC

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started at one safety spot last season, but was replaced by Brewer for stretches during the Georgia Tech game. Robert SmithRobert Smith
Fr. Defensive Back
#27 5-11, 210
St. George, SC

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saw action at safety early last season, and drew rave reviews from Kevin SteeleKevin Steele
Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
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and will also be in the mix. Bashaud BreelandBashaud Breeland
RS Fr. Defensive Back
#17 6-0, 185
Allendale, SC

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started seven games at corner, and looks to keep his starting spot this spring. Jumping in the fray to replace Coty SensabaughCoty Sensabaugh
Gr. Defensive Back
#15 6-0, 180
Kingsport, TN

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is 2011 signee Cortez DavisCortez Davis
Fr. Defensive Back
#2 6-3, 200
Daytona Beach, FL

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, who brings the size (6-3, 200) that defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison loves. Martin JenkinsMartin Jenkins
So. Defensive Back
#14 5-9, 175
Roswell, GA

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is another defensive back who came on in nickel situations late in the year (he was injured the first part of the season) and proved to actually be one of the best tacklers on the team, so he is also definitely in the mix at corner. Darius RobinsonDarius Robinson
So. Defensive Back
#21 5-11, 170
College Park, GA

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has actually seen significant snaps the past two seasons, while Garry PetersGarry Peters
RS Fr. Defensive Back
#38 5-11, 190
Conyers, GA

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saw limited time in 2011. The depth and the talent are here for this group to take a significant step forward this spring.

Q: Will Bradley PinionBradley Pinion
Fr. Punter / Kicker
# 6-6, 220
Concord, NC

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be the answer at punter?

Pinion is another 2012 signee who is already on campus, and everybody knows he has a big leg. Starter Dawson ZimmermanDawson Zimmerman
Sr. Punter / Kicker
#96 6-2, 205
Lawrenceville, GA

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is gone, leaving Pinion to vie for the starter’s spot with rising senior Spencer BentonSpencer Benton
RS Jr. Punter / Kicker
#13 6-2, 195
Myrtle Beach, SC

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, who also handles kickoffs and might be the holder on field goals and extra points. Benton punted twice last year for a 33.0 average, and with his duties on special teams covering several spots, it stands to reason that the coaches hope Pinion comes in and shows enough consistency to snag the job.

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