Clemson Defense 2003 vs. 2004
A couple of years ago on my radio show I had the pleasure of interviewing FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. I asked him about his cornerbacks and the fact that the Noles had given up a ton of passing yards. Andrews replied, "It takes eleven to play pass defense. If we had a better pass rush then or secondary could play better. Also, if our secondary gave us better run support then we could shut down more running attacks. The bottom line is it takes eleven to play pass defense and eleven to play against the run."
This leads me to the Clemson defense of 2003 compared to expectations of 2004. The Tigers will miss three starters from the defensive line but the secondary is extremely talented and could help against the run.
On November 8, 2003, the dominant defense that Coach Tommy Bowden had been looking for finally arrived shutting down the number three ranked FSU. The defense rebounded from giving up 321 yards rushing to Wake Forest to shutting down the high powered running backs of FSU to 11 yards. It wasn't long before you started hearing, "This is Clemson football, this is how we use to win football games."
The defense sparked the memorable four game stretch to close the season. The defense seemed ready to return dominance before Donnell Washington left early for the NFL Draft, now there questions to answers. The losses of John Leake, Khaleed Vaughn, JJ Howard, and DeJuan Polk are all experience players that John Lovett will have to replace. Here is a look at some differences in the Clemson defense of 2004 compared to last season:
1) At the end of spring practice, new Defensive Line coach Ron West said "I think we have the best defensive ends in the ACC." The pass rush will be much improved in 2004. Maurice Fountain and Charles Bennett will likely get the nod as the starters versus Wake Forest, but Vontrell Jamison and Gaines Adams are too talented to stay off the field long. If Adams can become a more complete player his potential is unlimited. Bennett is back to his natural position and showcased his ability with an excellent Peach Bowl and spring practice. All are big athletic bodies who improved at batting balls down at the line of scrimmage.
2) Defensive tackle is the biggest hole the 2004 Tigers have to fill. Eric Coleman is the senior who will be counted on to fill Washington's void. Coleman is big athletic body who could shine with opportunity to anchor the middle. Cory Groover, Trey Tate, Donnell Clark, and Chris McDuffie will play and all of them received praise from the coaching staff in the spring. Ron West would love for his tackles to stay healthy and continue to get more experience.
3) At linebacker, you will look no further than Leroy Hill. The All-American candidate will be the unquestioned leader of this defense. His ability to make tackles behind the line of scrimmage is his biggest asset. Anthony Waters will have to replace John Leake's 131 tackles. Waters showed promised last year in a limited role having the best tackle to snap ratio on the team. Redshirt Freshman Nick Watkins will push Waters all season long for playing time. David Dunham and Roosevelt Nelson will be called upon to spell Hill from time to time. David Blackwell will continue to take a bigger role in the defensive gameplan in 2004.
4) Unlike 2003 where it looked like a walk-on would the starter at the whip both key players return. Eric Sampson plays extremely hard and with emotion. Tramaine Billie is very productive player who loves to hit. We like how John Lovett moves his whips around and gets them involved in the defense. This should continue in 2004.
5) This is the best Clemson secondary in years. Coach Lovett has improved the secondary each season. This year, it begins at corner with Justin Miller and Tye Hill. Hill made great strides in his first season at corner and was perhaps the best corner on the field by the end of the season. Fans hope to see the Justin Miller of old in 2004. He needs to return to his freshman form. Reese and Gilliam garnered valuable experience in the spring, while Hill was running track, that could be very valuable during the season. Miller and Hill's ability allow the safeties to become more involved in the running game. Clemson should allow more pressure because of the cover skills of this duo.
6) At safety the Tigers are set with Jamaal Fudge and Travis Pugh. It is easy to forget considering how well he played, but last year was Fudge's first year at strong safety. Fudge will continue to improve, and bring the Valley to its feet with his devastating hits. This might be the best player on this defense and perhaps the best strong safety since Brian Dawkins to don a Tiger jersey. Pugh played very well and will be counted on to provide senior leadership. He is an athletic safety that plays hard. This season enjoy watching perhaps the best safeties in the ACC. Roy Walker will backup Pugh. Walker a late signee to the 2003 class showed in the spring why coaches were so high on him last season. Tavaghn Monts will backup Fudge. Monts is talented player who has worked very hard in the off-season ,and the coaching staff are trying to get him on the field.
The 2004 defense will be counted to win ball games. This defense could be able to force more turnovers than last year improving on the plus four turnover ratio of last year. This will be a big key for the Tigers, because in 2003 when they won the turnover battle they were 6-0. The defense has a couple of questions to answer, but the biggest question fans will look for is can they stop the misdirection by Wake Forest in the first game of the year.