What to watch: defense

CUTigers takes a closer look at the defensive position battles that will surely be topics of discussion throughout the upcoming weeks as preseason camp gets underway.

Though there are a few questions on defense, particularly at free safety and at linebacker, the unit as a whole is much more well off in terms of experience than the offense.

"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," Swinney said.

The Tigers remained healthy on the defensive side of the ball last season, and will need to again in 2009 to maximize their potential.

Here's a look at the key position battles on defense entering the start of training camp:

FREE SAFETY: With DeAndre McDaniel securely holding the strong safety spot down, free safety will be the most discussed position battle on defense during preseason camp. Sadat Chambers is currently listed as the starter, but he'll be challenged by a host of players more talented than him.

Starting with current reserve corner Marcus Gilchrist, Chambers will be tested in every way imaginable throughout the preseason. Redshirt freshmen Rashard Hall and Spencer Adams will also be in the mix as well.

SAM LINEBACKER: Sam linebacker could be the next most talked about position battle on defense, pending on a rumored position change for end Kevin Alexander.

Though Scotty Cooper is listed as the starter, current defensive end Kevin Alexander could battle for playing time to provide depth given Clemson's inexperience at the position.

DeAndre McDaniel has locked down the starting strong safety spot, but questions persist at free safety.
The starters at the other two linebacker positions are likely locked up by Kavell Conner and Brandon Maye. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele wonders who will play behind Conner and Maye. Who will provide the depth at the will and middle linebacker positions are the next battles that will be the most discussed.

"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.

Jeremy Campbell will compete with freshmen Corico Hawkins and Spencer Shuey for reserve roles at middle linebacker. Campbell saw most of his time in 2008 at sam. Hawkins was rated by Scout.com as the No. 23 2009 inside linebacker out of high school. Shuey was rated in the No. 79 defensive end.

With the unexpected end to Stanley Hunter's career, there's more of a shortage on experienced players competing for reserve linebacker time. Steele said he likes the progress of Jonathan Willard who will compete for playing time at will.

Daniel Andrews and Tarik Rollins could also compete for time at same behind Cooper and Alexander.

CUTigers.com Top Stories