Other than budding superstar sophomore safety Travis Blanks, there are real no game changers in their defensive backfield. In fact, many of the veteran defensive backs penciled in as starters heading into camp might not be there when they open the season with a tough test against the Georgia Bulldogs.
But first, back to Blanks. The 6-foot-1, 190 pounder was a Freshman All-American in 2012, compiling 51 tackles and seven pass break-ups along the way. He showed great range and instincts with the ball in the air, and was a willing tackler in the run game. He’s a versatile playmaker who really solidifies the back end for the Tigers secondary. However, there are problems elsewhere.
The other safety spot will likely be manned by junior Robert Smith who hasn’t seen much action during his Clemson career. Case in point, last season he was on the field for just 104 snaps, and came up with 14 tackles. He looks comfortable against the pass, displaying solid fundamentals, but isn’t the dynamic player that the Tigers would like to be able to pair with Blanks.
Four upperclassmen are battling for the two corner spots, but coming out of spring practices, there were no clear-cut starters.
Junior Martin Jenkins and senior Darius Robinson are competing for one spot, with both of them coming off injuries in 2012. Robinson has more experience, having seen significant time in the last two seasons, but he hasn’t been great when he played. Last year, he broke his ankle mid way through the season and did not return. On the other hand, Jenkins missed the entire 2012 season with a hernia and is looking to regain the form he showed his first two years on campus.
The other cornerback battle is between two juniors, Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland. At 6-feet, 195 pounds, Breeland is one of the more physical corners in the Tigers secondary. He’s made 12 starts in his career and has made seven pass break-ups to go with his two interceptions. He too was injured at the end of 2012, but appears to be healthy coming into this season. Peters started five games in 2012 and proved to be reliable on the outside. He’s fundamentally sound, doesn’t take chances, but as a result, doesn’t produce many turnovers. The two will continue this competition throughout the summer and then at the beginning of camp.
One name to remember is that of true freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound corner is a tremendous athlete who very well could crack the rotation at corner early in camp. He was highly rated by all scouting services and is too talented to sit behind players that aren’t as natural as he is.
Regardless of who lines up in the defensive backfield, they will need to play well if they want to achieve their lofty goals. This Clemson team is loaded with offensive playmakers and return quality players in the front seven. The back end remains the most obvious hole on this team.
Hopefully they will have some answers by the time they kick it off against Georgia on August 31.
B.L. is an ACC Football writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip.