After being forced to redshirt in 2013 because of an injury, Mackensie Alexander’s arrival on the field was well worth the wait for the Clemson secondary. He was everything he was projected to be coming out of high school in Florida: talented, determined, confident and unflappable. In short, he’s everything a shutdown cornerback should be, and he showed that last season.
He was named a second-team freshman All-American by Athlon was an honorable mention All-ACC pick (he should have been higher). Alexander finished with 22 tackles, six pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Notice there were no interceptions, but that’s only because teams largely stayed away from his side of the field.
It’s going to be hard for Alexander to top those numbers or his overall play from last season, but he can start that process this spring.
Alexander’s impact on the Clemson secondary was easy to see last season. In previous years, the secondary was a group that searched and searched for playmakers at the corner spots. It certainly found one in Alexander.
Playmakers on the back end
In Korrin Wiggins at nickel back and Jayron Kearse and Jadar Johnson at safety, the Tigers have a three-headed playmaking monster to go along with Alexander.
Wiggins, who will be a junior, has 54 tackles and four interceptions in 25 games.
Kearse, also a junior, has 122 tackles, three sacks and six interceptions.
And Johnson, once again a junior, has two interceptions.
Those three fly all over the field, and that’s a big part of the Clemson defense. They will need to take on a larger leadership role with the departure of one of the best leaders this program has seen in some time in Robert Smith and with Travis Blanks out for the spring with another injury.
Ready to step up
There is plenty of talent behind the Tigers’ four playmaking leaders, and that makes this Clemson secondary as deep as it has been in some time.
Cordrea Tankersley, a junior, looks like the best bet to start on the other side opposite of Alexander, and he has plenty of size and talent to do so. He needs to grow into a more consistent player, and this spring is the perfect time to do just that.
But he is going to be pushed by Adrian Baker and Ryan Carter, who both are coming off their redshirt freshman seasons.
Then there is T.J. Green, who is going to be a junior at safety. An ultra-talented player, he just needs to find some time on the field after moving to secondary after the 2013 season. He did have an interception last year and can give the Tigers valuable depth.
Jefferie Gibson redshirted in 2014, but he has the size (6-foot-4) and talent to make an impact at safety or at least push the veterans.
The new crop
Kaleb Chalmers (cornerback) and Van Smith (safety) both enrolled early and have some extra time to make the adjustment to the college game. How quickly they do that will be evident this spring.
Key stat: Alexander played in 766 snaps in 2014, the most ever by a Clemson freshman.
Spring Breakdown: DBs
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