Steele says replacing defensive standouts is key for spring practice

by - Senior Writer -

AUDIO: Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele

CLEMSON – Spring practice is a time when college coaches take stock of the players they have returning, try and guess where the incoming freshmen will fit in, and make depth chart decisions based on personnel and needs.

Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said on Thursday, however, that despite Clemson’s defensive personnel losses, things are going to be pretty much “status quo” on his side of the ball.

The Tigers begin spring practice on Friday, and Steele said there is a certain comfort level entering his third spring practice.

"This being the third spring practice, short of graduation we're always pretty status quo,” he said. "As far as the players, the business we're in, we don't have free agency and we can't draft them based on the positions we need. We recruit them, but that's a little different science. We'll certainly miss Da'Quan [Bowers] because he is obviously one of the better players to play college football in the last couple of years at his position. I've told people, you don't replace a Da'Quan Bowers. But maybe two or three people can. And then through the scheme of things, we can move things around and adjust things. All of that production does not have to come from one guy or one position.”

Steele said that replacing three starters [DeAndre McDaniel, Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell] in the secondary is made easier because of the quality of the players coming back.

"Obviously, that's three pretty capable guys in the secondary,” he said. “Obviously we're blessed that we've got a lot of guys back. [Xavier] Brewer, [Coty] Sensabaugh, the younger guys: Martin Jenkins and [Darius] Robinson played as freshmen. And we have [Jonathan] Meeks and [Rashard] Hall back. So we've got people that are very capable. They just don't quite have as much experience. But that happens in college football.”

In addition to the loss of Bowers on the defensive front, the staff must also deal with the loss of tackle Jarvis Jenkins.

"Probably the biggest thing that concerns me and us as a staff is Jarvis Jenkins commanded double teams pretty much all year long,” he said. “When you can put Brandon Thompson on one side and 99 [Jenkins] commands double teams on both sides of the ball, then that's four guys on two and we were able to handle the rest pretty good. So we had a distinct advantage there.”

The Tigers will be breaking in a new offensive scheme under coordinator Chad Morris, but Steele was quick to point out that his defense will be concentrating on its assignments – not what Morris and the offense will be doing.

"We're not playing our offense,” he said. “We do somewhat next season, but it's about a 3-technique playing 3-technique. It's about a 5-technique playing 5-technique. It's about a deep-third corner being a deep-third corner. It's about a half-field safety being a half-field safety, and playing with your eyes and running and tackling. They can't put more than 11 on the field. It's about the fundamentals and the process of developing the players, not the results. So when you go out to the scrimmage and we mix and match, we'll call things just so we can get it on film."

Steele said defensive end Kourtnei Brown, who backed up Andre Branch at the ‘bandit end’ position last season, will move behind Malliciah Goodman this season. Goodman is replacing Da’Quan Bowers. Freshman Corey Crawford will play behind Branch, while Tavaris Barnes will spend time at both end and on the inside with Rennie Moore and Brandon Thompson.

“Tavaris is a guy we have with Goodman and Kourtnei in the regular package, but he is also a guy that has the ability to go inside some,” Steele said. “That doesn't necessarily mean in the regular package. It means when we're trying to generate run stops in the nickel package and pass rush, because he can move around in that pass rush and be a guy that can be dominant from different places. He's a smart player, and he has the body type and the athleticism to play more than one place."

Steele said that Crawford – who spent last season at Hargrave – is impressive physically.

"If we were going to get off the bus, you'd want him in the first two or three, so the fans will go ‘wow.’ He is a physically impressive looking young man,” he said. “Athletically, he very impressive. And then just in terms of trying to take them to the edge, so to speak, when you work them to where they have to push and fight through fatigue, for a young guy he's impressive."

In the secondary, corner Xavier Brewer will probably take over Gilcrhrist’s duties - which included nickel coverage, while redshirt freshman Bashaud Breland might also see some time in that role. Sensabaugh will start at the other corner. Freshman Garry Peters joins sophomore Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson in competing for time as backups to Sensabaugh and Brewer.

Jonathan Meeks will get the “first shot” to replace DeAndre McDaniel at safety next to Rashard Hall.

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