Looking for improvement

SUNSET, S.C. – As Mike Reed begins his first season as Clemson's defensive backs coach, he knows this much: his group is wide-open.

His projected starting safeties have yet to start a single collegiate game. Of his four upperclassman cornerbacks, three missed all or significant portions of the 2012 season with injuries. Throw in eight defensive back signees led by four-star talent Mackensie Alexander, and you have the makings of a very interesting August in the Tigers' secondary.

How will Reed sort them all out? By looking for the players who make the most plays consistently, and going from there.

"I don't want a guy that's going to make a play here, and then 20 plays later you make a play," Reed said. "I want play after play after play after play. I want to be able to count on you. You want to be able to count on me? Well, I've got to be consistent. You mess up, I can't praise you and you make the same mistake I yell at him. No, I've got to get on his ass like I'm going to get on his ass. I'm old-school like that."

Trust is a huge factor for Reed, who spent the last six years on Tom O'Brien's N.C. State staff before being hired to replace Charlie Harbison in January. Flash doesn't matter if a player can't back it up on a down-to-down, quarter-to-quarter basis.

"I want to see, does a kid make plays?" he said. "As far as his athleticism, does he move side to side well, will he be physical? A lot of guys get caught up into the yard speed. It's to have a kid that runs a 4.3 (40-yard dash), but if he runs a 40-yard dash 10 times and he only runs a 4.3 once, I don't want that kid.

"What's he running the other 9 times, 4.6, 4.8, 5.0? I want a kid that's consistent from the first 40 to the 10th 40. Give me a 4.5 kid. I want consistency. At the end of the day, I want to know I can trust you when it comes to the fourth quarter, that you can make that play. I don't want like, ‘Umm, umm…'"

That said, Reed wants his charges to play without fear. Take risks, of a calculated sort.

"You can't handicap them and tell them, no," he said. "You've got to let them go. You're going to make some plays, you're not going to make some plays. But you can't be caught in the in-between where you go, ‘If I go for this, I may miss.' Hell yeah, you're going to miss. Because you've already put it in your mind you'll miss. Go for it. If you miss, we'll deal with it at the end of the day. I'll say, you can't do that anymore."

He also prefers a varied group of players with different sizes to work with, for greater flexibility in matchups.

"They can be 5-10," he said. "If they're 5-10, I don't want to coach a bunch of Mike Reeds. I don't want a whole crew of 5-9 guys. Give me a bag of Skittles. Different flavors, different sizes. If the kid's 5-6, 5-7, he better be quick, hella fast, better be able to jump out of the gym. His size, if he's under 5-9, he's got to play like he's a 6-2 guy. If he's 6-2, he better play like he's 5-9."

He certainly has a variety of experience. Senior cornerback Darius Robinson has made plays in his Clemson career, but is coming off a broken ankle that cost him the second half of 2012. Junior Martin Jenkins has shown flashes, but missed the entire 2012 season as a redshirt while recovering from groin surgery. Junior Garry Peters carried a large load following Robinson's injury, making an interception and some key pass breakups, but he was also erratic at times.

Meanwhile, starting safeties Travis Blanks and Robert Smith will be making their first career starts at safety against Georgia Aug. 31. The door is open for playing time for newcomers like Alexander, but Reed makes no promises.

"He's a great player, good player, but he hasn't made any plays for me yet," Reed said of Alexander. "Everything he's done is on the high school level. That's where it stays. High school. He'll get his first chance to make his plays August 1. That's when I'll make my assessment, of the real Mackensie Alexander. He' s a kid who works hard. I'm not going to take anything from what he did in the past. He did his work, made plays, got what he deserved to be a top-ranked corner in the country. Now he has to make plays. We'll see."

Following his hiring, Reed flipped one N.C. State defensive back commitment – Lower Richland defensive back Marcus Edmond – to Clemson, and also played a role in the late commitment of Durham, N.C., defensive back Korrin Wiggins, who picked Clemson over North Carolina and Ohio State. He also flipped former N.C. State commit Kyrin Priester, a wide receiver.

Recruiting at Clemson, Reed says, is not difficult – the program sells itself.

"Clemson tradition and pageantry helps us," he said. "One thing about recruiting Clemson, I don't have to sell kids on too many things. The proof is in the pudding. You see our graduation rate, see us as a top-ranked football team in the country. You want to come see the town of Clemson, you'll love that too."

Clemson fans just hope they like what they see out of Reed's secondary. If it shows consistency, he'll be pleased.

CUTigers.com Top Stories