No matter which way you slice it; the Tigers' defensive backfield will be a strength of the team this season.
Starting at one corner, is junior Justin Miller, one of the most athletically gifted athletes on the team.
At the other corner is Tye Hill, a track star and converted running back who is about as fast as they come in the ACC.
Behind Miller and Hill however is where the questions start.
Several players changed positions this spring to help address those concerns, but entering the start of fall practice, there appears to be more questions than answers.
Sophomore Sergio Gilliam had a steady spring in the eyes of the coaching staff, and at his size, he can match up against any type of receiver on the opposite side of the ball.
"He's been a good, steady performer for us," said defensive coordinator John Lovett at the end of spring practice. "He's tall and can make up a lot of ground easily, so that gives us some things to work with."
Gilliam appeared to be headed for a redshirt last year before he saw action late in the season. Overall, he got in on 36 plays in 6 games, recording 4 tackles.
|Tye Hill's transition successful transition to cornerback has paved the way for one of the most dominant defensive backfields in the ACC.|
Battling Gilliam for playing time will be Robert Reese, the most improved defensive back of spring practice, and converted quarterback C.J. Gaddis, perhaps the most athletic player on the team.
Reese excelled during two scrimmages in which he started for Tye Hill, who was absent due to a spring track meet, but has much to learn after redshirting his freshman year.
"Robert Reese has been playing well for us," said Tommy Bowden after the Tiger's second scrimmage this spring. "We went back and looked at the tape and he did some good things for us."
Meanwhile Gaddis is perhaps the most intriguing player involved in the cornerback equation.
"He's probably the best athlete on this campus right now," said Bowden. "But we've got to get him on the field. We've got to find a spot for him to play."
Admittingly, Gaddis looked confused during initial run as a defensive back, but the instincts, the speed, and the athletic ability are all there.
How that translates once fall practice begins is anyone's best guess, but he'll have the opportunity to play, and play a lot if the light goes on.
"He has the type of athletic ability that could allow him to start," added Bowden.
The first team is set, make no mistake about it. Justin Miller was unable to live up to the preseason hype of a year ago, but don't be surprised to see him come out this fall with a chip on his shoulder.
He knows a potential first round draft pick could be on the line, and he also knows he has a lot to prove after a year that ultimately failed to meet expectations.
Tye Hill is one of the fastest players in the conference, and his ability to grasp the cornerback position after moving over from running back last spring has been nothing short of sensational.
The second team, as documented above, is where some concerns start to rise to the surface.
The good news is that really only one player will absolutely have to step up in a reserve role. All you have to do is take a quick look back to last season for proof of that statement.
Senior Toure Francis served as the back up to both Hill and Miller throughout most of the season, and the Clemson defense didn't miss a beat.
Reese clearly has the edge here, but Gilliam and Gaddis will also get early looks. Converted running back Kyle Browning is also an option, but he currently sits behind Reese, Gilliam, and Gaddis on the depth chart.