Jadar Johnson and Van Smith share a bond on Clemson’s defense as the starting safeties.
Both players are first-year starters tasked with replacing former Clemson and current NFL safeties Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green.
But the connection Johnson and Smith have goes deeper than that.
“Me and Van, we’re real close,” Johnson said this week. “That’s like my little brother. We talk every day.”
It’s been that way since Smith arrived on campus last year, according to Johnson.
“We kind of just had a natural connection as soon as he got here,” Johnson said, “so I knew that me and him would be fine back there (at safety).”
That was certainly the case in Clemson’s season-opening 19-13 win at Auburn on Saturday night, when Johnson and Smith played well.
Johnson made two game-saving plays in the final moments, knocking down a pair of Hail Mary attempts by Auburn to preserve the victory.
The senior from Orangeburg, S.C., also intercepted a pass from Jeremy Johnson in the third quarter. The pick prevented Auburn from potentially adding points after the offense had driven into Clemson territory.
Meanwhile, Smith nearly equaled his total snap count from his freshman season. After playing 75 snaps in 2015, Smith was on the field for 71 snaps in his first career start at Auburn.
Smith finished the game third on the team with nine total tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss.
The first game of the season, and the first opportunity to start together, is something Johnson and Smith talked about a while before the game ever began.
“We’ve been talking about it ever since spring, trying to get our confidence up,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Smith are aware of the large void left by Kearse and Green that they are expected to fill.
It’s just not something they are concerned about. Instead, they’re trying to create their own reputation as a dual force to be reckoned with in Clemson’s secondary.
“We’re not really worrying about what everyone has to say, putting the pressure on us to be like Jayron and T.J.,” Johnson said. “We just want to make our own identity because we definitely are not the same exact players that they are. But I feel like we have our own identity and we can hold our own.”
Johnson knows that he and Smith can’t try to be Kearse and Green.
Johnson and Smith are simply focused on themselves and accomplishing their individual responsibilities in order to help the team win.
So far, they’re off to a good start.
“It’s really just a matter of us doing our jobs, doing what we need to do to make the team better,” Johnson said. “We don’t really worry about the comparisons to the guys from last year, we’re just worried about getting better each and every day.”