With the departure of starters DaQuan Bowers, DeAndre McDaniel, Marcus Gilchrist, Byron Maxwell, Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Maye the Clemson defense will look much different in 2011. Who will fill the holes in the secondary? Who will provide depth at defensive tackle? When will the talented freshmen linebackers see the field?
TheClemsonInsider.com takes a look at three questions for the defense as they prepare to the upcoming season.
1. Holes in the Secondary
The biggest question mark going into the season is the secondary where the Tigers lost three starters. The biggest question marks going into 2011 will be at corner.
Xavier Brewer looks to be the starter at one corner, but the other is still up for grabs heading into the August camp. Senior Coty Sensabaugh offers experience but several others should challenge for the starting position. Sophomores Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins both played in 2010 and showed promise at times during spring practices. Red-shirt freshman Bashaud Breeland could play either corner or safety for the Tigers and played well in the spring.
At safety the picture is clearer heading into camp. Rashard Hall started 12 games in 2010 and logged 621 snaps. Hall was fifth on the team with 65 tackles. Jonathan Meeks started one game in 2010 but played 256 snaps with 28 tackles. Meeks can bring pain to receivers roaming the secondary. Carlton Lewis played 115 snaps in 2010. A number of freshmen will compete to provide depth at safety.
How the younger players develop in the secondary will go a long way in determining how good the defense will be in 2011.
2. Depth at Defensive Tackle
The departure of Jarvis Jenkins and Miguel Chavis is a big loss for the defense. Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore will give the Tigers a great pair of talented starters, but depth is a big concern.
Tyler Shatley played in 12 games last season and logged 127 snaps providing the most experienced depth.
The Tigers will look to freshmen to provide much needed depth. Tavarus Barnes and Josh Watson both red-shirted last season but showed promise in the spring. Tra Thomas also red-shirted and will battle for playing time on the second and third team.
True freshmen Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Jerome Maybank just arrived on campus and will be given an opportunity in August to compete. Expect at least two of the true freshmen to red-shirt in 2011.
3. Talent verse Experience at Linebacker
Expect linebacker to be one position where the Tigers are much improved over 2010.
Corico Hawkins started all 13 games for the Tigers in 2010 and was third on the team with 71 tackles. Quandon Christian started seven games and played 378 snaps. Tig Willard started two games for the Tigers last season.
The Tigers bring in the nation’s top recruiting class at linebacker led by 5-star sensations Tony Steward and Stephon Anthony. All-American Lateek Townsend, B.J. Goodson and Colton Walls also join the Tigers.
One of the biggest questions will be how quickly do some of the younger, more talented true freshmen see the field and overtake the more experienced backers in the starting roles.
Make no mistake the Tigers have not had this amount of talent at linebacker since the 80’s and early 90’s. The play at linebacker will be much improved.