By Heath Bradley.
In the second installment of the post spring breakdown of the Tigers we will focus on the defensive backs. With new Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables in town, the defensive scheme is changing. Luckily, for the Tigers the defensive back unit is one of the oldest and most experienced for a young defense in need of leadership.
Depth Chart- 1st Team: Bashaud Breeland, 2nd Team: Cortez Davis
1st Team: Darius Robinson, 2nd Team: Martin Jenkins
What We Know- Coty Sensabaugh is a Tennessee Titan after being selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft in April. This means someone else must take over and fill his shoes. As of the end of spring practice, the person in line to take the reigns at the position is junior Darius Robinson. Robinson who has played in 18 games and 419 snaps in his career looks to continue the trend of Tigers shutting down one side of the field. Robinson has been able to work on his game daily by going up against one of the top receivers in the nation in Sammy Watkins and one can only believe that practicing daily against him will only make Robinson a better player. Backing up Robinson is fellow junior Martin Jenkins. Jenkins, who has appeared in 25 games for the Tigers, saw most of his snaps in the 2011 season at nickelback, including a season high 60 snaps versus Maryland. Across the field from Robinson currently is Bashaud Breeland. Breeland, a redshirt sophomore, started seven games for the Tigers during the 2011 season, playing 643 snaps in 14 games. Breeland was tied for second on the team with two interceptions and also recorded four pass breakups. Behind Breeland will be redshirt freshman Cortez Davis, a tall and physical corner who at 6 foot 3 inches has the size and speed to cover a variety of receivers. Once considered a safety prospect, his athleticism and coverage ability has allowed him to play cornerback at the collegiate level.
What We Expect- At TheClemsonInsider.com we fully expect to see the depth chart remain the same for the beginning of the 2012 season. One potential change could be seeing veteran defensive back Xavier Brewer play some snaps at cornerback while also playing free safety. With so many college football teams utilizing the spread, having corners who can not only cover but also tackle in space is key. Breeland, Robinson, and Jenkins all fit this mold and the fact that Davis has been kept at cornerback and not moved to safety means that coaches feel that he can do it at his size as well. Auburn may not have Cam Newton or Gus Malzahn anymore, but they are still a spread team. With Auburn’s experienced players the Tigers cornerbacks will get plenty of chances to not only cover receivers but most likely also running backs in the open field, depending on the way that Auburn chooses to give their playmakers the ball.
Depth Chart- Strong Safety – 1st Team: Xavier Brewer or Rashard Hall, 2nd Team: Robert Smith
Free Safety – 1st Team: Jonathan Meeks or Rashard Hall, 2nd Team: Garry Peters
What We Know- The Clemson safety corps is one of the most, if not the most, experienced unit on the entire Clemson roster. With three of the five Tigers listed on the depth chart being in at least their fourth year on campus the rest of the Tigers young defense will be able to lean on their leadership on the field. Rashard Hall played nearly the entire 2011 season with a knee injury that required surgery following the season, yet still led the Tigers with 89 tackles in 799 snaps over 13 games. Hall missed the entire spring recovering from microfracture surgery but should be back in time for the end of summer workouts. In Hall’s absence redshirt senior Xavier Brewer made the transition from cornerback to safety after playing both at times during the 2011 season. Coming out of spring practice Brewer is listed as the starter at strong safety and senior Jonathan Meeks at free safety. Meeks who has appeared in 37 career games for the Tigers, has intercepted five career passes, including a team high three in 2011. Backing up Brewer will be sophomore Robert Smith who started one game in 2011 in place of the injured Rashard Hall and had an interception in his first collegiate game against Troy. Meeks will be backed up by redshirt sophomore Garry Peters. Peters, who appeared in 11 games for the Tigers in 2011 played mostly on special teams but did record a tackle in the ACC Championship game against Virginia Tech.
What We Expect- While Rashard Hall did miss the entire spring due to surgery, it is hard not to see him as a starter when the Tigers take on Auburn in the season opener. A player with the experience, ability, and leadership of Hall will find a way to be on the field as long as he is able. Whether it is at free or strong safety Hall will be replacing a talented veteran player in Meeks or Brewer when he returns to the lineup. Hall, who has played most of his career at free safety has 10 career interceptions and 143 tackles. If Hall does replace Brewer at strong safety that leaves the option of where Brewer could play. In this new scheme used by defensive coordinator Brent Venables it will be interesting to see if Brewer is used as a potential starter at another position, potentially cornerback or nickelback, or if he decides to go with a three-man rotation at the safety position, since Rashard Hall ability to play both safety positions. At TheClemsonInsider.com we feel that Hall’s recovery will play the largest role in determining starting roles for game one for Clemson, with Hall getting the nod over Brewer is he is healthy. Jonathan Meeks seems to have secured the starting position at strong safety following a strong spring practice. Meeks focused on learning the new scheme while becoming a better and more technically sound tackler, something that only Meeks, but the entire defense focused on in the spring.