By Will Vandervort
There is one reason why Clemson’s defensive backfield should improve this coming season – it has a new attitude.
And that attitude comes from new defensive backs coach Mike Reed, who expects great things out of his players because he expects great things out of himself.
“The players like to tell me, ‘Coach! You are hard.’ I tell them, ‘I have to be because I’m hard on myself, so if I’m not hard on you then I can’t expect that out of myself,’” Reed said.
Dontae Johnson, who spent the last two years playing for Reed at NC State, knows all too well how hard Johnson is on himself and his players, but by challenging himself, he makes the entire secondary better.
“He just expects perfection,” said Johnson at last week’s ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro. “He knows what our talent and potential is and he tries to bring that out in his players during every play. He wants us to be consistent in doing that.
“That’s why he was really tough on us and why he really pushed us to be great.”
Reed gets his mentality from his father, a strict disciplinarian, who raised his son to always look and be his best at all times.
“People will say maybe I’m a little (strict), but that is just me,” he smiled. “I was always hard on myself coming up in life so I’m going to train you the same way my dad trained me. My dad was a Marine. ‘If your shoes are not shinned, get back in the house and shine your shoes.’
“That’s just the way it is with me.”
And that’s why a defensive secondary under Reed has always been so tough. Three times in the past five years his secondary at NC State has ranked in the top 20 nationally in interceptions. His 2011 unit led the country with 27 interceptions, the most in one season by any FBS school since 2003.
“Playing for him was great,” Johnson said. “He is a great mentor and a great motivator. He is a great coach and even a better guy. He played the position so that helped me so much. He coached us through tough situations.”
Cornerback David Amerson recorded 13 interceptions to lead the nation that year, the second most in one season by a player in NCAA history.
“Technique will get you a lot further than just making a play here or a play there,” Reed said. “Technique will put you in a situation where you are consistently making plays, and that’s what you want.
“As a coach, you don’t want to say well, ‘I know five times out of ten I’ll be right.’ No, I want nine out of ten or ten out of ten. That’s just the way I am. That’s how I was as a player, that’s how I am as a person and that’s how I am as a coach.”
Right now, Reed said his Clemson players have been sponges, soaking up everything he tells them and teaches them. Players like Travis Blanks and Robert Smith, who are expected to start at safety this year, have been very open minded with the things Reed is teaching them and they are running with it.
“If a guy gets an interception, you might think that is a plus, but I might give him a minus,” Reed said. “They are like, ‘Coach you are tough.’ But that is just the way I am. I want perfection.
“If you reach for the moon, you land amongst the stars. That’s what I want to do. I’m going for the moon. Guys may break up a pass, but if the technique wasn’t good, then I’m not going to give you a reward for bad technique. That’s just like giving your child an award for bad behavior. You just don’t do that.”
Coming out of the spring, Reed says nothing is set in stone when it comes to the depth chart. He said a few guys stood out like Blanks and Smith, and he likes the fact experienced guys like Bashaud Breeland, Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson are back in the fold after injury plagued seasons in 2012.
But he also likes he has a couple of freshmen like Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Jadar Johnson among others to push the upperclassman for serious playing time.
“The reason you want it like that is because now those players have a little unrest, meaning they are going to compete day in and day out thanks to just sheer numbers,” Reed said. “Now that we have numbers, you will see guys competing more. You will have guys who will assume leadership roles and really stand up. That’s what you want.”
And what Reed wants more than anything right now is to get them all on the practice fields come Aug. 2.
“Maybe I’m a little different. I’m excited about all of them. (Alexander) did not become the number two cornerback in the country for nothing,” he said. “So yeah, he is a guy I want to work with, but I want to work with all of them because I think we have a very special group. If we come together like we should then we can be very, very dominant.”
And that’s the attitude all Clemson fans want in the secondary.