This time last year, Lannden Zanders was a true freshman going through his first fall camp at Clemson, and he was somewhat unsure of himself out on the field as he tried to learn Brent Venables’ complex defense and get adjusted to the speed of the college game.
Now, a year later, Zanders feels like a much different player with a season of experience under his belt, and the sophomore safety is currently penciled in as a starter in the Tigers’ secondary entering the 2020 season.
“Just comparing myself from last year to this year, it’s a big difference,” Zanders told reporters Thursday. “I’m more confident. Same for me and Joe (Joseph Charleston) and all the safeties – we’re just more confident. We know our plays, we get to know the system better and everything. We’re just another step ahead, like a big step ahead.”
As Zanders alluded to, one of the main reasons for his improved confidence is the firm grasp he has on the playbook now and the good understanding he has of multiple positions in the secondary.
“I feel like I’ve grown in the playbook,” he said. “Coach V and his playbook, it’s different. You’ve got to know everything you’re doing. I know multiple positions – I know free, I know strong, I know a little bit of nickel now. But just knowing the playbook, that’s where I think I’ve grown the most.”
Zanders played 112 defensive snaps over 14 games as a freshman in 2019, tallying 21 tackles (2.5 for loss), 2.0 sacks and a pass breakup.
Those snaps were valuable for Zanders, who believes the experience he gained will benefit him in year two.
“I expect it to help me out tremendously, as far as like going in, not being nervous as my first year,” he said. “I think this year, I’m going to come in more confident instead of being nervous, being that freshman. I think I’m going to come in with something on my shoulder to prove.”
Senior safety Nolan Turner has seen Zanders grow early in his career at Clemson, and he too thinks the Shelby, N.C., native is a much-improved player heading into this season.
“He’s super smooth,” Turner said. “He’s got great technique in all his movements. He’s a super humble guy, too. He’s really just kind of sat back and just watched and observed and really taken his game to another level, just from learning the defense, and once you learn the defense, everything starts moving faster. So obviously he comes in with a lot of athleticism, and once you start learning the defense and picking up on some of the offensive keys, he can really make plays and that’s really what he’s done out here.”
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