Secondary concerns

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - There were plenty of questions to be answered when evaluating the Clemson secondary before the 2011 season.

And understandably so for a unit that had to replace two NFL draft picks and an All-American.

Coty Sensabaugh, Rashard Hall, Xavier Brewer, Jonathan Meeks and Carlton Lewis, the returning veterans, called a meeting of the secondary minds last spring to school the youngsters on a myriad of topics.

It was there they laid down the law for Bashaud Breeland, Martin Jenkins, Garry Peters, Darius Robinson and Desmond Brown.

"We all had a heart to heart," Brewer said. "It was really deep. We just wanted to try to turn things around, because we knew it was going to be tough. We had a lot of young players, but we just wanted to try to help them grow up fast."

After back-to-back seasons of finishing in the top-30 of the two major pass defense categories, Clemson's secondary had a share of growing pains in 2011. The Tigers currently rank 55th nationally in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 127.41 and 35th in pass defense with an average of 202.9 yards allowed.

Sensabaugh, who leads the team in snaps played, is the only member of the secondary that will not return for 2012.

"They're going to be real salty next year," he said. "I think they'll have a chance to be even better. Hopefully they'll be better than we were this year.

"I'm expecting big things out of those guys next year."

Even more talent will be added to the mix for next season.

Reserve freshman safety Robert Smith will be another year older and freshman cornerback Cortez Davis will be fresh off his redshirt year.

Plus, Clemson will add a group of highly-rated defensive backs in the 2012 signing class, including four-star prospects Travis Blanks, Cordrea Tankersley and Ronald Geohaghan.

"I feel all of them are super-talented," Sensabaugh said, when asked about the current underclassmen and group of incoming freshmen.

"It's all on them, what they do with it, but they all have a chance to make an impact in some form or fashion."

The current group of defensive backs, led by the veteran four-some of Sensabaugh, Brewer, Hall and Meeks, has quite a challenge in-store on Wednesday. Orange Bowl opponent West Virginia ranks No. 7 in the country with 341.8 yards passing per game.

Given the high-scoring nature of the two offenses, many have predicted a high-scoring affair at Sun Life Stadium.

"We want to go out there and stop them every time. So when they say it's a shootout, we're like, ‘Hey, that's a challenge,'" Brewer said. "As a defensive player, you definitely want to accept that challenge and go do something about it, not talk about it."

What better way to silence the critics than to shut-down one of the nation's most explosive passing attacks.


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