5 things to watch this spring: defense

CLEMSON - With the start of spring practice less than two weeks away, CUTigers.com offers five things to watch this spring for the Clemson defense.

Clemson returns just one starting linebacker from the 2009 team, though defensive coordinator Kevin Steele claims no starting spot is guaranteed this spring.

Fourth-year junior Brandon Maye must become more instinctive during year number two under Steele. As the man in the middle, he relays the signals and makes the calls--kind of like a quarterback, but on the defensive side of the ball.

Steele said sophomore Corico Hawkins is the player he trusts the most behind Maye, in terms of his on the field duties as the relay-man. Behind Hawkins, Steele will begin to school redshirt freshman Spencer Shuey. Steele said third-year sophomore Jonathan Willard is also pretty well versed in that role.

Senior Scotty Cooper, the elder statesman of the group, will compete with Willard, junior Daniel Andrews and redshirt freshman Quandon Christian for starting roles at outside linebacker.

Stalwarts Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor leave behind a pair of starting cornerback spots, each having started some 40-straight games.

This spring, Marcus Gilchrist, Byron Maxwell, fourth-year junior Coty Sensabaugh and third-year sophomore Xavier Brewer will push for those two vacant starting jobs.

Gilchrist started at free safety last year but also played corner, he could win one of the two spots. Maxwell, a fellow senior, is projected by CUTigers to start opposite of Gilchrist.

Clemson returns plenty of defensive tackles from 2009, including starter Jarvis Jenkins, who was fifth on the team with 69 tackles and tied for second in TFL (11). Not only is fellow starter Brandon Thompson back, but so are the other three from last season's rotation. Jamie Cumbie, Miguel Chavis and Rennie Moore all return.

As many as four from the group won't be back in 2011, and Clemson has already begun to stockpile its next batch of tackles. Two new faces will also be going through spring drills: 2009 redshirt Tyler Shatley, and 2010 early enrolled Josh Watson. Both will be given opportunities to figure into the rotation this fall.

Senior DeAndre McDaniel, third-year sophomore Rashard Hall and Gilchrist are among the most trusted players on the defense. Not only for their physical skills, but also for their mental comprehension of what's going on in front of them.

Gilchrist is the most versatile of the group, splitting time between corner and safety in 2009. McDaniel and Hall ranked among the national leaders in interceptions a season ago (both finished in the top 20).

A knee injury left third-year sophomore Spencer Adams behind the eight-ball last spring, making it tough on him to figure into the equation, but his recovery continues to go well. He and sophomore Jonathan Meeks are projected as the backups at safety.

Michael Wade will also provide additional depth here as it was revealed two weeks ago he would make the transition from offense.

With so much depth at defensive end last year, and a redshirt season to burn, Brown sat out with a redshirt during as a junior. Defensive ends coach Chris Rumph said Brown is the most athletic defensive end at Clemson.

This spring, he's playing on the same side as fourth-year junior Andre Branch.

In the two seasons that he's played at Clemson, Brown has 33 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. All three TFL came in the Gator Bowl against Nebraska as a sophomore.

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