Defensive Concerns?

With All-American candidate LeRoy Hill running the show this year, the Tigers' defense appears to be set at linebacker. Or is it? <BR><BR> We checked in with defensive coordinator John Lovett to get the scoop on where he feels like his defense must improve this fall.

Looking across the college football landscape today, just about every program in the country, with the exception of maybe one or two teams, has legitimate defensive concerns.

Unless you are coming off a national championship and bringing everybody back, or unless you're the Oklahoma Sooners, you've likely got problems on defense.

It's a fact of life, and at Clemson, things are no different.

Headed into the start of the 2004 season, the Tigers have several questions on defense that must be answered. Some of those questions that exist may surprise you.

On paper, the Tigers appear to be set at middle linebacker, otherwise known as the MIKE linebacker in the Clemson defense.

LeRoy Hill, who is now up to 228 pounds, returns for his senior season just one year removed from finishing second in the country in tackles for loss with 27.

In short, middle linebacker should not be a problem for this team this season.

It shouldn't be, but as things stand right now, it is. At least when you are talking about depth.

"We need to stablize at MIKE linebacker behind LeRoy Hill," said defensive coordinator John Lovett. "We've got two guys that can go in there and play well, but I'd like one of those guys to step to the forefront. Not play better, but just play consistent. That's the mark of a good player. They've got to make the plays that are there in front of them. If that happens, I think we'll be very solid."

David Dunham and Roosevelt Nelson are the two players that Lovett is referring to. Both have limited experience, yet one needs to emerge to provide some much needed depth behind one of the most feared linebackers in the nation in Hill.

DT Trey Tate will see an increased role up front this year with the losses of last year's starting defensive tackles.
Nelson recorded 55 snaps last season while Dunham, saw action in just 92. At the same time, LeRoy Hill was in on over 800.

While Hill has a motor that doesn't stop, that motor will likely last a whole lot longer if he's got some quality depth behind him.

Another area of concern for the Clemson defense this season is at defensive tackle, where the team must find a way to replace Donnell Washington, one of the most physically gifted athletes on the team, and DeJuan Polk, one of the unquestioned leaders of the team from a year ago.

"I think inside, the depth problem at tackle could be a problem," said Lovett. "We've got to develop some young guys so we have some good depth. If you watch us play, we roll guys a good bit.

"You've got to play five ends and five tackles. Number five has got to be able to play a good bit and you can't have a big drop off when he's in there. He's got to be able to hold his own and do well. That's a concern for us."

Eric Coleman and Trey Tate are the two starters this year, but after that, question marks are everywhere.

JUCO transfer Cory Groover needs a few more weeks of practice, and perhaps a few games under his belt before he's ready to be unleashed, and Donnell Clark has been a special teams performer who is now suddenly finding himself creeping up the two deep depth chart.

"I would have liked to have another week or two of spring practice," said linebackers coach David Blackwell of Groover. "You could see the light was really starting to come on with him. He's still got some work to do though."

While Groover is probably third or fourth on the list, that fifth tackle that Coach Lovett was referring to, remains a bit of mystery.

Also, with Chris McDuffie out of the picture for at least the foreseeable future, the responsibility of the upperclassmen becomes more important than ever before.

"I feel I need to step up a little more personally," said senior tackle Eric Coleman. "Overall, I think I had a decent spring, but there's still a lot of room for me to improve. We also improved a lot as a unit this spring and I think we showed what we could do, especially near the end."

Fortunately, the main problem for the Clemson defense this year appears to be squarely focused on depth. Finding that depth however will be critical if the Tigers expect to improve on last year's 9-4 record. Top Stories