Tuesdays with Kevin Steele

CLEMSON - Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele previews Saturday's game against Middle Tennessee.


5 Questions with Kevin Steele

If there is one thing that would keep you up at night regarding MTSU, what is it?
Obviously the diversity of what all they do. Then maybe the unknowns of what they don't do on film but you know they've tinkered around and researched doing. They will probably come in with a bunch of empty (backfield) with a lot of speed guys in space and that will keep you up. But you know that because that's on tape. If they are running with the quarterback, it's one thing with the zone-read, ride the tailback and then take it off the edge. But it's another thing to bring a guy in orbit motion and have almost like a wishbone. It's stuff like that you have to go up over.

How will you align your coaches?
Charlie (Harbison) will be up top. Daric Riley (GA) will up with him. We'll have a quality control guy charting things. Dan (Brooks), myself and Chris (Rumph) will be on the sidelines.

Is that your preference?
I just think when you've got a guy like Charlie who is similar to me. We worked together at the Carolina Panthers. We both worked for Dom Capers and we both worked for Nick Saban. Philosophically we are on the same page so our communication is key.

Talk about MTSU's talent.
You know now there is so much parity in college football. There's guys on that field- [Patrick] Honeycutt and [Desmond] Gee that were recruited by ACC and SEC schools. It was just a numbers factor (with the bigger schools running out of scholarships). They've got a bunch of guys like that.

At this point do you have almost too much information on this team?
Yeah. But you have to have it in your head. We have components that we can mix and match that can correct something unexpected or fix things if you will. All of that won't necessarily be shared with the players because it can't be digested. But when you see it happening you can't sit there and say, 'Okay well let's go upstairs and try and figure this out.' You have to have answers right then and there. You have to have that 'what if' already talked about and that's where you burn the midnight oil right now.

-Roy Philpott
Kevin Steele may have the dirtiest index fingers by the time Saturday rolls around.

In preparation for Middle Tennessee he said there's been a lot of drawing in the dirt to prepare for a Tony Franklin offense that could show several different concepts and reads at Clemson.

Franklin was offensive coordinator in 2000 when Kentucky had the nation's second best passing offense. In 2006, he led a Troy offense that had been at the bottom of the Sun Belt Conference into the league leader in passing. With eight days to get ready for Clemson in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl, Auburn posted over 400 yards of total offense.

Steele said preparation can't be limited to the passing game.

"There's a zone read. What we call the orbit option where they get the wide receiver in and create the split back veer or sometimes wishbone concept with a pitch man," he said. "We have to look at all of it."

With not a lot of tape on it from Troy and a "two-headed monster" at Auburn in Joe Cox and Kodi Burns, that's where Steele said the Tigers defense has been drawing in the dirt and working on everything in preparation for Middle Tennessee.

With quarterback Dwight Dasher predominately lining up in the shotgun, an effective pass rush is that much more challenging with his ability to get rid of the ball quickly.

"When you line up a quarterback at six yards deep in the shotgun and you basically punt protect with the offensive line. They back straight up and kind of just get in your way," Steele said. "He's throwing the ball 10 or 11 yards deep from the line of scrimmage. That's a long way."

Sacking a quarterback four or five times a game that is a first down's distance behind the offensive line is difficult.

Bothering Dasher in other ways besides a pass rush will be key on Saturday.

"You affect him in the coverage, the protections. You've got five linemen up there and the running back, who they free release sometimes…if they turn one loose, you've got to get there," Steele said. "You have to have the right guys who are fast enough to get there. Fortunately enough, we have some guys that are pretty fast."

With as many as four and five wide receivers on the field at one time, he said there probably won't be much need for Kevin Alexander and Scotty Cooper at SAM linebacker, unless the Blue Raiders line up with a tight end in two back sets.

"At this point," Steele joked, "we'd pay them to do that."

The idea is to get as much speed and defensive backs on the field as possible, which will hopefully limit Middle Tennnessee's speedy wide receivers from making plays in space.

In short, it could turn out to be a defensive back's dream. But keep in mind Clemson's ultra-talented secondary will still have to prove itself as well- breaking in a new fulltime starter at free safety in Marcus Gilchrist.

"You get more of them on the field, so I'm sure they are pretty pleased," Steele added. "But we won't know if it's a dream or nightmare until we get finished.

"Hopefully it's a dream."

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