"I think what you saw in the spring game was that we've got some good athletes and the kids were making plays," said defensive coordinator John Lovett. "And that is something I certainly hope we continue to see as the thing goes on. I don't know if it was the offensive line not playing well or our guys just playing really well. It might have been a combination of both those things."
"But I think we have a chance to be pretty good if we just continue to keep doing what we need to do and what we're coached to do. But I think we've got a chance to be pretty good up front and we should be very good at end."
Even with the success of the defensive line over the spring, there's still some trepidation on the part of Lovett, who is set to enter his third season as defensive coordinator.
"Well, I'm never happy. I'd always like to be better than what we are," he said. "I think we ought to be pretty good in the secondary. We're looking for some guys to fit into some spots and help us out a little bit."
"We're just trying to strengthen and get more numbers at our linebackers spot. We feel good there, but we just want to make sure we've got enough numbers, because, knock on wood, you don't get banged up there."
"And I think we need to find one more tackle inside to feel like we've got enough for a rotation. And I think that tackle is here on campus already, it's just a matter of he's got to emerge and play every day, because I'm not going to put somebody out there that's not ready to play."
However, not being ready to play is something that plagued the Clemson defense a few times last year.
Lovett knew deep down that the 2003 version of the Tigers defense was going to be a better overall unit than what took the field in 2002. That's why he was deeply troubled by what took place during the middle of last season.
"Early on, they were just playing OK," Lovett said. "Then what happened was we were playing against North Carolina and we jumped out to an early lead -- and they do not have a good football team -- then the kids kind of remembered (2002) and kind of relaxed and all of a sudden we were in a dogfight. We end up winning that game in the end, but we were in a hangover as far as going into the next week. I think the mental set going into the Wake Forest game was that, ‘We should win this game. We've always beat this team.'"
"Then, of course, we played awful in that game. Then I think what really happened was there was a wakeup call, backs-against-the-wall boys, what are we going to do now? We did nothing different, but the leadership on the team finally kind of stood up and took us where we needed to go."
|"They've got a lot of unique plays," Lovett said of Wake Forest. "When they get into that motion, that puts them not into in a two-back, but a three-back offense. So when they get into something like that, that's what makes it so difficult."|
The obvious question then, is how do Lovett and the Tigers avoid having to get another wakeup call in the middle of the 2004 season.
"There's enough people that are here in leadership positions that have already been through that," Lovett said.
"We had a very productive spring ball and I think those kids are looking forward to getting better. … Our chore is to bring the guys that will go in the game behind them, get them up to speed on the same page so we can keep moving like that."
One aspect that will certainly help Clemson is the fact that it opens the 2004 season against Wake Forest, which compiled an amazing 321 rushing yards and held the ball more than 36 minutes in a 45-17 blowout last year.
"We've certainly already broken them down and we actually did some work during the spring against them," Lovett said. "The one thing you don't know is what are they doing different from last year. They're certainly a unique offense."
"One of the things that I think will help us a little bit this year is we can spend a couple of extra days working on them as a team and not being distracted and say, ‘Oh, we've got to play other games before we play them.' This is our first game and we can focus in on them."
When playing against the Demon Deacons, it's necessary to employ unusual defensive strategies because of their motion-style of offense.
"They've got a lot of unique plays," Lovett said. "When they get into that motion, that puts them not into in a two-back, but a three-back offense. So when they get into something like that, that's what makes it so difficult. Their one-back offense is a two-back offense. Their two-back offense is a three-back offense. But you have to be able to defend and play one-back and two-back rules. You give your kids rules for alignments and keys then all of sudden you get these guys, and they're a little bit different and that's what kind of forces you into some special situations."
Following Wake Forest, fans can expect to see the same sort of defense that played so well most of the season last year. The Tigers ranked in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense last year, yielding just 19.2 points per game.
However, there will be some slight changes.
"From my first year, to last year, to this year, we're going to be a little bit different," Lovett said.
"But that's adjustment to what we see offensively, number one, and number two, and most importantly, when we put a defense out on the field, we go one through 11 – who is our best guys; what can those guys do; and lets do what then can do best. So we try to adjust it to that. That's what we try to look at as we're piecing things together every year."
"So, basically it's going to be the same thing that they've been seeing, but we may major in something a little bit more this year, where we didn't do it last year. It just depends on who's out there performing well and who are our best guys at this particular time, because during the season, you kind of tweak as you go along."
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