Defensive Depth Chart Taking Shape

CLEMSON – For some time now, Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said the Tigers might sport the two most physical cornerbacks in the country. But they're not alone. The safeties aren't exactly creampuffs, either.

Last season, the defensive backfield was predicated on speed versus power.

This year, it's all about making the opposition know they're entering a hazardous area that could be harmful to their health.

Hard hits have become such a main point of emphasis for free safeties Chris Clemons and Chris Russell, as well as Cat safeties Michael Hamlin and Roy Walker that during practice they sometimes have the heads of their own teammates on a swivel.

"We stress a lot on that," said Hamlin, a redshirt sophomore. "Sometimes we make bets on who has the most blowups. That really makes you want to hit somebody and carry it over into the game."

For all those that don't know exactly what a "blowup" is, Hamlin offers a brief description.

"Their head has to hit the ground first," he said. "It's probably tied right now for who has the most. Everybody has their days."

The four safeties have also taken turns on having all-around productive days on the practice field. But all four are going to see a bevy of playing time, regardless of which two players start.

"They're four really impressive looking guys," Koenning said. "When we're doing (defensive back drills on game day), they're going to be going, ‘Holy smoke, look at these guys.'"

At this moment, Clemmons and Hamlin are the starters, but according to Koenning, that could change rather quickly.

Russell, who is built more like a linebacker, gets better every day, but Koenning said he hasn't progressed quite as fast as he had hoped.

"He's showed signs," Koenning said. "Hopefully we can continue to get him to show progress through the next few weeks. He's still kind of new to that position."

Koenning said that Hamlin has had a good camp, and because of that he's only taken about 30 percent of the snaps in order to let the backups get some repetitions.

Clemons has his hands full staying ahead of Russell, but he's played well enough to keep his starting job.

"We stress a lot on that," said Hamlin, a redshirt sophomore. "Sometimes we make bets on who has the most blowups. That really makes you want to hit somebody and carry it over into the game."
The sleeper in all this is Walker, a redshirt junior. Koenning said he might be playing the best of the entire bunch.

Even so, Koenning isn't resting on his laurels. He's constantly pushing them to improve, much like he did Tuesday morning.

"They're checking their behinds today, because there ain't a lot left," he said of chewing them out. "But, I think we're really making progress. I have real high expectations for these guys and I don't think we're where I want us to be."

Cornerback depth chart
As the Tigers prepare to begin their preparation for Florida Atlantic, the cornerback depth chart appears to be settled for the time being.

Obviously, the first team is comprised of C.J. Gaddis at field cornerback and Duane Coleman at boundary cornerback.

The second team has Haydrian Lewis entrenched as the backup to Gaddis, however Coleman's backup has a bit of intrigue surrounding the battle.

While Sergio Gilliam and Ray Ray McElrathbey and Sadat Chambers have fallen by the wayside, freshman Crezdon Butler and redshirt freshman Chris Chancellor have risen to the challenge.

As it stands now, Chancellor is with the second team, with Butler fighting for some reps of his own.

"Chris might be the third-best (corner) we've got right now," Koenning said. "He's really been coming on all camp."

Nelson's move
Linebacker Maurice Nelson's move from Will to Sam could mean a lot more playing time for the redshirt junior.

As Antonio Clay continues to be shaky as the replacement for the injured Tremaine Billie at Sam, Nelson has been reliable, if not steady. And that should translate into ample playing time for Nelson, who spent the entire season there last year.

"Frankly, that might be the position that better suits him," Koenning said of the switch. "It only took him one day to get back into the groove. He's really doing a good job and making some plays. He brings a presence to the position that's cerebral. I think he's going to make it hard for anybody to keep him off the field."

Koenning even indicated that if Clay continues to make mistakes that Nelson could take away his starting position.

CUTigers.com Top Stories