Heading into the 2020 season, Clemson senior safety Nolan Turner believes the Tigers’ young but talented safeties are ready to make a name for themselves as they step into bigger roles and try to help fill the void left by departed safeties Tanner Muse, K’Von Wallace and Denzel Johnson.
Turner said this week that sophomores Lannden Zanders, Joseph Charleston and Jalyn Phillips, as well as redshirt freshman Ray Thornton, have come a long way in their development since last year and he expects them to turn heads this season.
“Everyone has just gotten so much better over camp, and it’s cool to have seen them come from their freshman year to now, and they just all look like different dudes,” Turner said. “So, I think that by Week 6 or 7, a bunch of those guys will have made a big name for themselves.”
Zanders is set to make his first career start Saturday night in Clemson’s season opener at Wake Forest after playing in 14 games last season and posting 21 tackles (2.5 for loss), 2.0 sacks and a pass breakup in 112 defensive snaps.
The product of Crest High School in Shelby, N.C., is expected to get the start at strong safety alongside Turner at free safety.
“Obviously Lannden is just such a good player – super rangy, can really cover some ground, is great in coverage,” Turner said. “He’s made some great strides throughout camp. Watching him cover one-on-one, it’s impressive to watch. It’s cool to see his fundamentals and how they’ve grown.”
Thornton, meanwhile, is listed as the backup to Zanders on the depth chart Clemson released Monday ahead of the Wake Forest game, and Phillips checks in as the third-string strong safety to begin the season.
Thornton appeared in four games during his redshirt year in 2019, while Phillips logged 47 defensive snaps across 14 games, tallying seven total tackles.
As for Charleston, he enters the 2020 season as Turner’s backup at free safety. The former four-star prospect from Milton (Ga.) High School recorded 13 tackles in 94 snaps over 13 games last season.
“I think Joseph Charleston is a physical dude, great tackler,” Turner said. “He’s been getting a lot smarter, learning the defense, and it’s been cool to see.
“Same thing with Jalyn Phillips, Ray Thornton — just two great athletes, and they’re developing, too, and learning.”
Turner – the “old head” in Clemson’s secondary, as he put it – has taken on a leadership role ahead of this season and is serving as a coach on the field for the younger players.
One of the main things Turner has emphasized to Zanders, Thornton, Phillips and Charleston is they don’t need to try to be heroes, but rather just play within themselves and handle their assignments, and the rest will take care of itself.
“The biggest thing with young guys is just explaining to them that it’s all about just doing your job and the plays will come and you’ll make the plays that you need to make,” Turner said. “But these guys have made it easy. They’re super committed, obviously all super talented, and they’ve really bought in and you can tell they care. So, it’s been cool to see them mature over this time and watch them learn throughout camp, watch them compete, get better and fail and then continue to get better and build off of it.
“It’s been fun to watch, and just super excited to get out there and play with these guys and with this defense and this team. It feels like it’s been so long, we’re just ready to get out there on Saturday.”
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