Revamped defensive backfield

CLEMSON - Charlie Harbison didn't have to look far for a pair of starting cornerbacks when he returned to Clemson in December of 2008 as defensive backs coach.

Most pieces to the unit that finished seventh in pass defense and 21st in pass efficiency defense in 2009 are back in 2010.

But now long-time starters and current NFL Draft Combine prospects Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor have moved on after several productive years at cornerback. Reserve safety Sadat Chambers has also graduated.

Harbison's now pressed to sort through the numbers and find a pair of starters at corner and depth at safety who are playing "at a high level" this spring.

"At this point, I think we're going to be alright, because our guys are versatile. We've got guys that can play more than one position," Harbison said.

That versatility starts with senior Marcus Gilchrist, who was moved to safety upon Harbison's arrival to Tigertown, but continues cross-training as a cornerback.

Third-year sophomore Xavier Brewer, fifth-year senior Byron Maxwell and fourth-year junior Coty Sensabaugh also return as candidates for snaps at corner. Harbison won't name any starters or release a depth chart until practice starts. He said the players will decide that on the field.

Maxwell led all Clemson corners in interceptions a season ago (2). Sensabaugh, Butler and Chancellor each had one too. In 2009, Gilchrist played more snaps than anyone else on the Tigers' defense and was the team's second highest tackler. Maxwell played 311 snaps, Sensabaugh 142 and Brewer 119.

"You've got pieces to the puzzle. Whatever athlete at that time, you get the best players on the field. You can move and match," Harbison said. "To sit here and say, to answer (who will start), probably wouldn't right now. It depends on what we do this spring."

Considered two of the smarter players on the Clemson defense, senior DeAndre McDaniel and redshirt sophomore Rashard Hall are likely to start at strong and free safety, respectively. Both finished among the nation's top 20 interceptors last season, combining to make 14 picks.

Harbison is interested to see how Hall responds to playing in a role that isn't concentrated on the opposing offense's personnel. Last season, Harbison said Hall played primarily against groups with one running back and one tight end with fewer snaps against two running backs and a tight end.

Harbison wondered, "When you get the big boys in there, the two tight ends and the fullback; how can he do?" Third-year sophomore Spencer Adams, sophomore Jonathan Meeks, third-year sophomore Carlton Lewis and fifth-year senior quarterback Michael Wade are likely to figure into the push for backup roles.

Harbison said this spring is a good time for less younger players to pick up ground and work towards earning time in the rotation.

"This spring (Adams is) running track, so that kind of tells me the knee is in shape…I'm interested to see what Meeks does," Harbison said.

Several new faces will join the secondary this summer when the freshmen arrive to campus. Martin Jenkins, Garry Peters and Darius Robinson will come in at corner with Bashaud Breeland, Desmond Brown and Ricky Chaney providing more numbers at safety for practice later this summer. Breeland could also be an option at cornerback.

"I don't put limitations on those kids, but the corner is a guy that can come in and play pretty fast. I'm not going to put limitations on my safeties, because you never know," Harbison said. "Somebody can come in and pick it up right now and take off.

"I let them determine that when they come in August."

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