Clemson's corners will be more aggressive

CLEMSON — New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said many times this spring that there really isn't too much to fix when it comes to the Clemson defense.

However one area the coaching staff fine-tuned this spring was a secondary that did not allow an opponent to pass for more than 200 yards for nine straight games in 2008, the best streak by a Clemson team in 30 years.

Though Clemson's defensive backs ranked second in the nation in yards allowed per pass play and recorded the second best numbers (5.24) by a Tiger defense in 44 years, secondary coach Charlie Harbison will have his coverages looking a little different in 2009.

"A lot of the things we did in the spring was put them in tough situations and see how they respond so we know where we are at in the fall," he said.

The biggest change will be Clemson's more aggressive approach in coverage. Several times this spring, corners were jumping routes or bumping receivers off the line. A far cry from former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning's scheme.

Under Koenning, the Tigers were primarily a zone team that kept everything in front of them and was seldom beat on long pass plays.

In the spring, this year's secondary played some zone, but it was also more aggressive in nature, going after anything and everything that was thrown. Some resulted in interceptions and some resulted in maybe a penalty or two, but either way the Tiger's aggressiveness with wide receivers and in coverage was noticeably different.

"That's one thing that we are going to have to do is challenge the guys we're lined up against," Harbison said. "I want them to challenge and compete against them. That's one thing I hope we continue to do and play within the system and make sure we can make the play.

"Anytime you play in the secondary, you are going to get a pass interference call at some point and time. Receivers push off so you will get a penalty. My guys have to be aggressive to get a penalty. I don't want them to catch (the ball) every third down, I mean give me a break.

"I don't want them to march on down the field, but I don't want to see that penalty either. It's a catch 22. You are playing the space. That's going to happen sometimes. That happens to the NFL guys."

With veteran players like Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler starting and with capable guys like Byron Maxwell and Marcus Gilchrist backing them up, the Tigers will more than likely have the best corners in the ACC, and maybe the country, this season.

"We have guys that are coming around pretty good," Harbison said. "We have (Xavier) Brewer that did a lot of good things this spring. We have a number of guys. Brewer is a kid that did well and (Coty) Sensabaugh did a lot of good things. They are going to get better, I hope, over the summer, and when the season starts in the fall we will see what happens.

"My thing is this. Chancellor, Butler, Maxwell and all the other guys, it isn't so much who is the starter, but who gets the job done. If a guy is not getting the job done, then he is not going to be out there. You're going to make the right decision to see who is going to compete on Saturday."

One of the guys out there will be Gilchrist.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior is perhaps the most versatile player in the secondary. Harbison says he will use Gilchrist at corner, in the nickel and at safety this year.

"He got a lot of work early at corner and a lot of work later at safety," Harbison said. "You have to move people around to see who has the right fit.

(Gilchrist) is a guy that can play a lot of different positions. He is a player. He is an athlete. He can play in space. You could put Butler there and you could probably put Maxwell there, but I chose to put him there because of some of the things he can do. He is coachable.

"All of these guys are coachable. I put him there because he played a little safety last year so I chose him. If Maxwell and some of those other guys played safety last year, I might have chosen them."

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