Recruiting: Breaking Down the Secondary

The Tigers will lose several key components in the secondary next year. Starting cornerback Brian Mance and Rover Altroy Bodrick are just two of names that will need to be replaced. Today we take a look at the key losses, and also project the Tigers' top prospects headed into the heart of December in the defensive backfield.

Rover/Strong Safety
Returning Players: Ronny Delusme, Charles Harper
Key Losses: Altroy Bodrick
Projected # Signed in 2003: 1
Main Targets: Maurice Nelson

Maurice Nelson has favored the Tigers for quite some time, and it appears that he'll likely give his verbal commitment sometime after the new year. Coach Lovett has made Nelson a priority, and in each of the games the senior linebacker attended in Tiger Town, Lovett was always the first to talk to him on the sidelines.

Clemson wants him as a rover, and I think that's the position he stays at next year. Pending the recovery of Ronny Delusme, Nelson is a player that has the potential to earn playing time next season.

Interestingly enough, Kelvin Morris might ultimately hold the key to Nelson avoiding a redshirt. Morris has already been moved to the "whip" linebacker after the departure of Eric Sampson, and that could very well leave a spot open for Nelson somewhere next season.

Nelson will have an advantage over every other incoming freshman because he already has put in serious work in the weight room. The strength program at Crestwood High School is phenomenal, and that will pay huge dividends for the Tigers next fall.

If and when Nelson verbals to Clemson, I think we are done recruiting at this position in 2003. Several players certainly fall under the hybrid linebacker/strong safety role, but Nelson is clearly the favorite of the staff and he'll be groomed as a Roverback by Coach Lovett.

As it stands now, the Tigers appear to be locked and loaded at rover for the 2003 class with Maurice Nelson.

Free Safety
Returning Players: Travis Pugh, Tavaghn Monts, Brian Carr
Key Losses: Eric Meekins
Projected # Signed in 2003: 1
Main Targets: Sergio Gilliam, Keenan Little, Larry White, Nicos Chavis

Sergio Gilliam is one of the prospects that could fill any number of positions for Clemson in the coming years. I see him as a free safety simply because he has the height and speed to become a bonafide playmaker in the Tiger defense.

The staff has yet to speak with him about his position on the team, but I have a sneaking suspicsion that he could see playing time much sooner in the secondary then at wide receiver. At the very least, his verbal commitment should give the coaching staff some flexibility with some of their other targets on both side of the ball.

The bottom line on Keenan Little is that he is going to wait on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. If he doesn't receive an offer, then Clemson stands an excellent chance at landing him once he comes for his official visit in January. Even with an offer from Georgia Tech, it's still to early to close the book on him.

Coach O'Cain has said that Clemson wants him as a safety, but if Gilliam were to take over that role (and with two more inches on him he easily could) then Little could make the move to cornerback. Again, Gilliam's verbal commitment gives the staff some flexibility on how to proceed here.

Larry White is a speedy prospect out of metro Atlanta that is leaning towards Georgia, but will wait to make a decision after he officially visits Clemson. White has stayed under our radar a bit, but we should be speaking with him later this week for a full report. 4.5 speed out of your free safety isn't a bad thing, is it?

Chavis is a prospect that has just been waiting on an offer from Clemson. His situation is largely dependent on probably two prospects that Clemson has ranked ahead of him. If those prospects make it to Clemson in January, Chavis likely won't get an offer. If they don't, Chavis is just itching to get to Tiger Town and a commitment to Clemson would be on the horizon.

Other names that could come into play after the Shrine Bowl are DeAngelo Bryant (S out of Silver Bluff High School) and Renaldo Gaskins, (S out of Camden).

In terms of returning players at free safety, the Tigers have two solid back ups that will push for the starting spot next season.

In my estimation, it will be hard for Travis Pugh not to be on the first team in the season opener in Athens. Pugh has earned the praise of defensive coordinator John Lovett this fall, and it looks like he has the clear edge over Tavaughn Monts (who redshirted this season) and Brian Carr headed into the spring.

Returning Players: Toure Francis, Ryan Hemby, Jamaal Fudge, Justin Miller, Buddy Williams
Key Losses: Brian Mance, Kevin Johnson
Projected # Signed in 2003: 2
Main Targets: Chris Carter, Ryan Gilliam, Jhermaine McAroy, Robert Reese

Ryan Gilliam will play whatever position that his team needs the most help with, and for Clemson that would have to be at cornerback. Gilliam comes from one of the top high school football programs in the country in Lincoln High School in Tallahassee.

The key factor here is current Tiger freshman Buddy Williams. Williams and Gilliam were teammates for two years and started in the defensive backfield together at Licoln, and Williams will also host Gilliam the weekend of January 10th.

I see Gilliam as a cornerback simply because that's where Clemson would likely need his services. Could he play wide out? Sure, but from the scouts that have seen him Tallahassee, he makes an excellent cover corner and I shutter at the thought of having him and Justin Miller wearing orange.

Jhermaine McAroy is a pure cover corner out of Pensacola, Florida that the Clemson coaching staff is also very high on and the good news is that he just set an official visit with the Tigers on January 24th. McAroy, like Gilliam, will have to choose Clemson over in-state powers Florida and Florida State, so you can bet that the Clemson coaching staff (Brad Scott) has his work cut out for him.

Fortunately for Clemson fans, a Tangerine Bowl appearance could become a difference-maker with both of these recruits. Coach Bowden indicated earlier this week that several of his practices (under NCAA regulations) will be attended by some of the staff's top targets in Florida.

Chris Carter figures to be a lock to resign with Clemson, but it is still unclear as to when that will actually occur. The 4.34 speedster would be a huge pickup in the 2003 class, if indeed his academics are in order and he's ready to make the move from prep school. More information on Chris Carter is expected in the pipeline shortly.

Cornerback remains more of a question mark at his point due to several players being recruited in the secondary and at wide receiver. I wouldn't mind seeing Gilliam get a shot at cornerback. Sure, he's a little tall, but he hauled in 8 interceptions this year at Greer and has outstanding recovery speed.

There are also one or two more prospects that have stayed under the radar this season and I wouldn't be surprised to see someone like Tim Jennings from last year (Georgia CB commit who started several games as a freshman) sneak up at the end.

Robert Reese has recently gone on record with Clemson in his top 5, but an official visit has yet to be set. Reese plays football for Temple High School, a Single-A team from Georgia and has only recently added the Tigers into the mix.

The need for one more true cover corner is obvious. Next season, the Tigers will be without the services of Brian Mance and Kevin Johnson, and Toure Francis' return from a torn ACL has not yet been confirmed after playing just 12 snaps this year in the Georgia game.

Redshirt freshman Buddy Williams will likely crack the two-deep and Jamaal Fudge will once again be expected to step up in the Clemson secondary. Fudge or Williams will ultimately hold the key next year with Hemby and/or Francis also seeing significant action. Top Stories