The perfect fit

Consistency is the choice word for Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele as the Tigers open camp in less than two weeks.

"There are a lot of great schemes and a lot of great players out there. If you capture (consistency), then you have a chance," he said.

Steele, who is in his first year as defensive coordinator, will steer the Clemson defense, which gave up just over 17 points per game last year. He's encouraging everyone in his unit to be the best player at his position every play.

A host of players are competing for playing time on the defensive line, and the expectation is that competition will only help to reinforce Steele wanting players to work to be more consistent.

"If you've got anything to you at all, you compete," he said. Of course, having the luxury of rotating five players between the two interior tackle positions certainly helps.

Throw in Da'Quan Bowers or Malliciah Goodman at one end and Ricky Sapp or Kevin Alexander at the other, there's a number of combinations that can be utilized in the front four. That's why Dabo Swinney believes it all starts on the line when looking at the Clemson defense.

"I don't have a lot of concerns there. Like every year, the concern is keeping the key guys healthy. That's critical to how good of a football team we can be this year," he said.

Steele admits concern over the lack of experience behind Kavell Conner and Brandon Maye.

"Kavell and Brandon are really the only two that have really played and (Maye) has only played a year…but when you total up the true number of snaps there are not a lot of snaps," Steele said.

Steele has plans to help create competition at linebacker although they're pending approval from Swinney.

"I said something to one of the players the other day, I said, ‘We'll find out because I'm going to see if somebody can play over there where you're at.' He gave the correct response, ‘OK, coach, that's alright.' If you don't want to compete, you're not going to get better," Steele said.

Swinney said that several players would be moved around to different areas of the field.

"That's something I think you're going to see more of this year based on what the offense puts on the field," he said. "It's based on what we'd do with Sapp, Alexander, Cooper—wherever those guys line up. Hopefully that will make us little better of a football team."

The secondary is anchored Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler at cornerback with Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell providing depth. Moving from outside linebacker to his more natural position, DeAndre McDaniel has taken ownership at strong safety.

Sadat Chambers and Gilchrist will both see time at free safety although whoever plays there, starter or otherwise, will be inexperienced. There are also the four freshmen that will be in the mix for time at safety.

Though he realizes being better on paper doesn't always translate to wins on the field, Steele is comfortable with the depth and talent along the line, the instincts and ability of the linebackers and experience at defensive back. But it comes down to making good decisions and having the heart to want to keep the opposing team's offense out of the end zone.

"The most talented teams don't necessarily win on Saturday," Steele said. "The ones that will fight you the hardest for the longest amount of time have a better chance of winning."

And Swinney is comfortable with who he's got as defensive coordinator.

"He's square peg in a square hole. He's a perfect fit for me and for Clemson," he said. Top Stories