Changes in store for Clemson defense?

CLEMSON - Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele looked up towards the top of the tower in the middle of the practice fields Tuesday afternoon ... and let's just say, what he had to say wasn't pretty.

You see, just 15 seconds earlier, the air horn signaling the start of practice accidentally went off.

Normally it wouldn't be an issue, but as it turns out it was blown 15 minutes before it should have, causing a handful of players to think they were late.

"Was that an accident?" Steele quipped. "Well if it was an accident say it was an accident. This lack of communication can be an issue you know. That's how the Titantic went down - lack of communication."

Yes indeed, to say things are a bit different this year under head coach Dabo Swinney, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and the rest of the coaching staff would be quite an understatement.

It's a new head coach and a new staff trying to build a new attitude ... and perhaps even add some more toughness along the way.

And if Steele has anything to say about it, well, opposing offenses could see just about anything come fall.

Clemson's first-year defensive coordinator was in mid-season form Tuesday, breaking down the Tigers' efforts on their very first day of practice in preparation for the 2009 season. He also confirmed a couple of off-season rumors along the way.

"Two things immediately stand out to me today," he told CUTigers afterwards. "No. 1 – [strength and conditioning coordinator] Joey Batson. I've been at practices at other schools where seven or eight guys are on I.V.'s after the first practice. Not one of those today. The job he did this summer can't be stated enough.

"And No. 2 - the players. It looks like we had a bunch of guys this year retain what we taught them back in the spring. That's always good."

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of what he had to say didn't have anything to do with what happened today- but will happen in the coming weeks.

With rumors of potential position changes in the works following the staff's hideaway meetings last week, Steele did little to deny that at least three players on defense could be given the opportunity to play multiple positions this year.


"We have to have moving parts to the puzzle," he said. "You have to cross-train some, especially with scholarship limitations these days. You can't throw a fastball all the time; you have to throw a changeup in there."
And it all starts with one of his top returning players in senior bandit end Ricky Sapp.

Sapp, of course, is coming off an ACL tear last season and wasn't able to practice during the spring. In fact, Steele hadn't seen him do much of anything until today, but by all accounts, so far he's responded well.

"He practiced like everybody else today," he said. "I thought he moved well and responded well. He didn't have any live-bullet reps during the spring but I thought he did well today. Yeah- he looked good to me, I can tell you that."

And assuming his knee holds up without any complications, Sapp, as well as at least two other players, are in line to play multiple positions this fall.

"We have to have moving parts to the puzzle," he said. "You have to cross-train some, especially with scholarship limitations these days. You can't throw a fastball all the time; you have to throw a changeup in there.

"We've got some moving parts to puzzle here so that's going to allow us to expand our package. It allows us to develop a little bit of a bullpen and gives us more options."

Translation: expect to see Ricky Sapp, at times, line up as a weak side linebacker. In addition, expect to see Marcus Gilchrist try his hand as a free safety. And last but not least, senior end Kevin Alexander will also get some looks as a SAM linebacker.

"I would say all those are safe bets," Steele said. "It's not a position 'move' but it's more of a scheme in placing people in different locations to gain an advantage. You got to remember this is a matchup game. That's what it is - a match-up game. We could do similar things with DeAndre [McDaniel].

"When you can move people around- and they can do it- it's cross training. It's not a position change - it's cross training. On paper you may look at us and say, 'Well Ricky is the WILL linebacker here.' Well no he's really playing end but we just moved a guy and stuck him back there and called it something new, like 'Bamberg.'

Call it whatever you want to, Steele says it's about gaining an advantage over the offense by doing things a little bit differently than what they are used to seeing.

It's also fun for the players - because it puts them in a position to make plays from unexpected locations on the field.

"They have fun with it because they see it creates problems with the offense. It can be very sneaky," he said. "But it's just the first day, you know. We've got a long way to go and we know it. It was a good first day but we've got a long ways to go."

And it sounds like the fun has only just begun for Steele and company - except for the guy who blows the horn to start to practice, of course.

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