By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
One of the biggest questions in the secondary this spring is what will Clemson do with Jayron Kearse? Will he play safety? Or will he play at strongside linebacker? Will he be the nickel back or will he play all three positions?
Heck, Kearse could play defensive end if they needed him to. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Kearse can play just about anywhere. He is without a doubt the most talented and athletic player on the Tigers’ defensive side of the ball.
But what Clemson will actually do with the South Fort Myers, Fla., product is interesting and could be the deciding factor on how good next year’s defense can really be.
If Kearse can get bigger and stronger which we think he will because of the natural progression of a player then you can really look at him at the strongside possession in a 4-3 scheme. Quandon Christian played the strongside the last two seasons at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds.
If Kearse is able to play the strongside, it gives the Tigers the luxury of keeping him on the field more when teams bring out their four wide receiver sets and try to spread the field. Kearse is a hybrid so now he can line up in the nickel back position which can Venables more of a luxury of having his best 11 players on the field at all times if he so chooses.
Keep in mind, what Venables decides to do with Kearse is purely speculation. For now, he will be listed at the safety position where he started the last two games due to the knee injury of Travis Blanks in The Citadel game.
Here is a look at the safety candidates for the 2014 Clemson Tigers.
Robert Smith, 5-11, 210, Sr. – Smith came on strong at the end of the year. He is one of the smartest players on the team and no one on defense studies film as hard and as long as he does. Fundamentally, he got better with his technique and his tackling as the season wore on. By the end of the year he was one of the more consistent players in the Tigers’ secondary. He started all 13 games at strong safety in 2013, recording 79 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and five passes broken up (PBU). He also had an interception that he returned 28 yards.
Travis Blanks, 6-0, 200, Jr. – Blanks was the Tigers’ starting free safety for much of the 2013 season before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 23 against The Citadel. Blanks started in 10 games and played in 11 this past season as he had 35 tackles and two passes broken. The only knock on the rising junior is his tendency to run himself put of running plays or takes bad angles on running backs in open space. With that said Blanks is one of the leaders on the team and is greatly respected in the locker room.
Jayron Kearse, 6-4, 205, So. – Kearse uses his height to an advantage, which is why he tied for the team-lead in interceptions with four. The freshman started three games and at times played like a freshman as he got confused in coverages and let receivers and running backs get behind him. Three times in the Orange Bowl, he Buckeyes’ burned him for two touchdowns and another time that set up a third score. But there is potential upside, which his four interceptions proved. He made up for a couple of those mistakes in the Orange Bowl by making a good read and intercepting a pass to set up the Tigers’ go-ahead score late in the third quarter. Kearse finished the season with 55 tackles, while starting three games.
Korrin Wiggins, 5-11, 190, So. – Wiggins stepped up as a contributor in the secondary as a nickel back and at safety. He also was a valuable member of the special teams. He finished the season with 14 tackles, a half sack, five PBUs and two quarterback pressures. Besides playing the nickel position, he also served as Robert Smith’s backup at strong safety.
Jadar Johnson, 6-1, 195, So. – The coaches really liked the way Johnson performed in the spring and fall camps, which is why he played in 11 of the 13 games, totaling 12 tackles and one PBU. He also had two tackles on special teams. He was a reserve safety this past season.
Ronald Geohaghan, 6-0, 190, So. – Geohaghan was a redshirt freshman this past season that saw most of his action on special teams. He also served as a reserve safety where he played in eight games and had two tackles.
Taylor Watson, 5-10, 210, Jr. – He was originally a walk-on who has primarily played on special teams the last two seasons. Watson was a reserve safety in 2013 and has played 77 snaps in 23 career games.