If there is one area on Clemson’s defense where there is concern it is on the backend. It’s not that the Tigers’ coaches are concerned about their starters. It is depth and experience depth that are the trouble spots.
Cornerback Trayvon Mullen is in line to have a big season and many consider him to be the next lockdown corner for Brent Venables’ man-to-man scheme. A.J. Terrell seems to be a star in the making, and Mark Fields is a senior who started four games last season for a secondary that led the ACC and ranked fourth nationally.
“We look at corners, they have a chance to be really good,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Trayvon, the focus of that guy is at another level. A.J. Ferrell had a good year last year, but boy is he going to be special. Mark Fields, I’m hopeful he is going to put it altogether this year and have his best year. He has certainly shown what he can do.
“We have a couple of new guys that will add into that equation.”
Those new guys are freshmen Kyler McMichael and Mario Goodrich. They enrolled in school earlier this summer, but Swinney and Venables have said both of them need to be ready to go so they can compete. The Tigers will also be counting on redshirt freshman LeAnthony Williams as well as Brian Dawkins, Jr., to provide depth. Williams is listed second-team behind Mullen heading into camp, which starts on Friday.
At safety K’Von Wallace more than held his own last season and Tanner Muse might be the fastest guy on the team. Both started at least five games in 2017.
“K’Von Wallace has shown light years of improvement just based off his experience from last year,” Swinney said.
Then there is Isaiah Simmons at the nickel back position. He played in all 14 games last year as a reserve safety and is considered the most athletic guy on the Clemson roster.
“Isaiah Simmons, he is going to be exciting. I’m excited to see him,” Swinney said. “I have not been around many guys like him. He is kind of like Dorian (O’Daniel) in that he is unique. Dorian was a very unique player and Isaiah is the same way, obviously different body types and things like that, but both you kind of put in that category.”
O’Daniel of course was a two-year starter at the nickel / SAM position and was a First-Team All-American last season. Besides being a great cover guy, he also did a great job against the run and led the Tigers in tackles last season with 104.
“You have MIKE backers and then you have your WILL backers and then you have guys that are just unique,” Swinney said. “Vic Beasley was unique. That is how I would describe Isaiah Simmons.
“He can do a lot of things. He can cover. He has great length. He can play the backend as well as anybody. He can play in the box. He is physical. He is an excellent blitzer. He is a natural guy when it comes to blitzing. Knowledge wise he has come so far. I think he is going to be an exciting player to watch.”
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