Clemson’s defensive line is the talk of the team’s first preseason scrimmage, which took place on Saturday in Death Valley, and deservedly so after a dominant showing. Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant combined for 19 tackles, including five tackles for loss, and three sacks.
But behind them, Clemson’s secondary quietly shined.
Safety Tanner Muse and cornerback Mark Fields recorded interceptions for the only two takeaways of the scrimmage. Redshirt freshman safety Isaiah Simmons, meanwhile, had four tackles, a tackle for loss and three pass deflections.
“I think collectively we did good,” veteran cornerback Ryan Carter said of the secondary. “Of course there’s always things that we can work on, but I think as a whole, we’re showing a lot of maturity. All of us are starting to feel more comfortable in what our reads are and what the scheme of the defense is, especially for the younger guys. So I feel like as a whole, it’s going really well.”
Clemson’s secondary is loaded with talent entering the season, though the unit is tasked with replacing the production left by first-team All-American corner Cordrea Tankersley and first-team All-ACC safety Jadar Johnson.
Muse is projected to be Clemson’s starting strong safety with junior free safety Van Smith. Simmons, a former four-star recruit, has a chance to provide depth behind Muse.
“Those guys are playing really well, too, from the ones to the twos,” Carter said. “Tanner Muse, Van Smith, Isaiah, all of those guys are playing really well right now.”
Muse, who is looking to fill Johnson’s shoes as a redshirt sophomore, has especially impressed Carter.
“He’s a newer guy who’s getting a lot more reps now,” Carter said. “He’s been locked in and doing really well back there.”
Carter himself is expected to assume an even larger role in Clemson’s secondary a fifth-year senior.
Last season, Carter earned the Tigers’ Iron Man Award after producing 29 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and an interception. He played in all 15 games, started 13 of them and logged a career-high 624 snaps, more than double the total number of snaps he played in his first three years at Clemson.
Marcus Edmond is currently penciled in as Clemson’s starter at field cornerback opposite of Carter, who is expected to play on the boundary. There is plenty of talented depth behind them, with Fields and Amir Trapp expected to back up Edmond at the field spot, and Trayvon Mullen and K’Von Wallace expected to play behind Carter on the boundary side. True freshmen A.J. Terrell (boundary) and LeAnthony Williams (field) are trying to make their case for playing time, as well.
Carter said one corner in particular has caught his attention through the first two weeks of fall camp.
“Amir Trapp, because he’s a younger guy, a smart guy who hasn’t gotten many reps as far as being in the game,” Carter said of the redshirt sophomore. “But as far as the whole camp has been going, he’s been really consistent as far as I’ve seen and is playing really at a high level.”
Having completed his undergraduate degree, Carter is fully focused on finishing his Clemson career the right way.
The Tigers are counting on Carter to be a dependable presence in the secondary, and as such, he has taken on a leadership role heading into the season.
“My mindset is just to try to be a leader, especially in the secondary,” Carter said. “Not just talk about it, but do it by my actions in how I come to practice every day and just show the younger guys the sense of urgency that you have to have.
“I remember being a younger guy and starting to feel a little overwhelmed with things, but now I feel like I understand the defensive scheme and can definitely help translate it to guys who feel like they might not understand something or something similar.”
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