Young Defense Will be Tested

CLEMSON – Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning realizes that Saturday's season-opening game against No. 17 Texas A&M isn't exactly the best scenario to get his young defense acclimated to life in big-time, college football.

A small mistake against a team like the Aggies can result in a touchdown real quick.

But he's not stressing over the situation at hand, either. He's confident the youngsters, most of who are on the second and third teams, will adjust rather quickly.

"We know we are going to be a work in progress on defense," Koenning said. "Anybody who looks at our depth chart sees that in our two-deep we have six freshmen, in three-deep we have more. … We're going to get them out there and play them, they're not going to be perfect, I've got to make sure that I don't put too high an expectation for them, but I think they know what the expectation levels are, and I know what they are at Clemson. …

"I'm going to tell them to play the very best you can and play fast. If they make a mistake, we'll correct it and move on. Nobody's ever called a perfect game, and I'm not going to do it Saturday, but I'm going to do the best I can. I think we're prepared."

Even though there is such a high amount of true and red-shirt freshmen on the defense, Koenning said it won't alter the rotation of players and substitutes during the game.

"We've been rotating our ones and twos liberally with the ones," he said. "When our twos have gone out there, it's been our threes and pluses. So when I get frustrated by the lack of progress of some of those guys, in actuality it's been the threes.

"We've got a couple of threes were going to count on; for example (Cory) Groover, I think Josh Miller will get some playing time, I think Maurice Nelson will get some playing time. We're going to be fairly liberal with ones and twos. I know it's a night game, but we want in the fourth quarter to be able to say hey, let's put the rocket fuel in and go. Of course, we've got to get it to the fourth quarter, obviously. Hopefully we won't have to play too many of our threes.

"Some of (the twos) still have a long ways to go. Until they have it down backwards and forwards, we won't put them in the games."

One of the freshmen that is expected to get plenty of playing time and possibly even start is nose guard Rashaad Jackson. But the butterflies are starting to become active, which is a problem for most getting ready to play their first collegiate game.

However, Koenning is counting on the newcomers to work through that rather quickly and not let it hurt their performance, especially at one of the cornerback positions where it appears junior Sergio Gilliam will get the start over red-shirt freshman Chris Clemson, in what has been one of the most contested position battles this August.

"As much as Chris deserves to start the game as much as Sergio does, I think you've got to go with someone who's been out there before," Koenning said. "(The Aggies) are going to go deep, and they're going to test him, and we're just going to have to do the best we can with that position and let those guys get experience.

"I think Sergio's tried really hard, and I think he's got about as good a grasp of our calls and what's going on as anybody. If I don't have confidence in him, then how can he have confidence in himself? So, I've got confidence that he'll go out and perform well, but Chris has really performed well for a kid his age, and he'll get a lot of reps in the game. To get through the game and the season, we're going to have to develop those positions."
b And if all else fails, Koenning is counting on a little outside help for his youthful defense.

"I hope this is an extremely difficult road game for them," he said jokingly. "I hope the air conditioner over there doesn't work. You hope the bus breaks down." Top Stories