Defense should have few questions

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is back for year two at Clemson after nearly leaving taking off for Tennessee over the winter.

He returns with the rest of the defensive coaching staff intact from a year ago.

Clemson's defense ranked in the top-25 in several major statistical categories last season: pass defense (7), tackles for loss (12), total defense (20) and pass efficiency defense (21). There were stretches when the defense struggled to stop the run, particularly the quarterback. Clemson allowed 151.5 yards a game, which ranked 67th.

The majority of the line remains intact with Ricky Sapp and Jamie Cumbie as the only departures from last year's rotation.

Linebacker is again the weakest area of the defense and it's a whole lot younger in 2010. Brandon Maye is the only post-spring starter with a collegiate start under his belt.

Though longtime starters Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor are now looking to catch on in the NFL, the Tigers remain experienced at cornerback with a pair of seniors ready to take over starting duties. Safeties DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall are back after combining for 14 interceptions in 2009.

Strengths: Coaching continuity, defending the pass, secondary experience, depth on the line

Weaknesses: Inexperience at linebacker, defending mobile quarterbacks

Now let's take a closer look at all three levels of Clemson's 2010 defensive unit:


Bowers was challenged to recommit himself during the offseason and it appears that he has. (Roy Philpott)
Strength: Each player in the post-spring two-deep rotation has loads of potential. Some might venture to call a few from the group freaky. Though the term can be thrown around lightly these days, Da'Quan Bowers and Malliciah Goodman accurately fit the description.

Weakness: For all the upside at the position, it's been several years since a Clemson defensive end has been truly dominant coming off the edge. The Tigers did improve the sack numbers from 2008 to 2009, though. Two seasons ago, Clemson ranked 108th in the country in sacks. In 2009, the ranking improved to 27th (2.57 per game). Of the Tigers' 36 sacks, 12 were by defensive ends.

Outlook: Bowers was challenged to recommit himself during the offseason and it appears that he has. There were stretches in 2009 when Andre Branch was the best on team at the position. Along with another year of experience for Goodman and a hungry Kourtnei Brown, who red-shirted, the group looks like it could be better in 2010, even without Sapp.


Don't be surprised to see Jarvis Jenkins have a first-team All-ACC senior season. (Roy Philpott)
Strength: The group is deep, experienced, talented and unselfish. Both starters from the interior are back. Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson led the five-man rotation at tackle in 2009 and project to do so again in 2010. Miguel Chavis and Rennie Moore will again see important snaps this fall.

Weakness: It's tough to find anything wrong with this group. Jenkins and Thompson will have to do a better job of monitoring their weight throughout the season, unlike last season when each carried some unproductive weight. Part of the struggle to slow the run in late season losses to South Carolina and Georgia Tech can be attributed to the poor shape of the two.

Outlook: The dismissal of Jamie Cumbie earlier this summer will provide an opening for an inexperienced underclassman snaps. Tyler Shatley, Josh Watson and Tra Thomas will figure into the competition for the fifth tackle spot. Even with one less tackle back from last year's rotation, there should be little to no drop-off. Both Jenkins and Thompson are on track for the NFL. Defensive line coach Dan Brooks said Chavis had the best spring practice of the group.


Corico Hawkins should anchor the Clemson defense this season at the MIKE linebacker spot. (Roy Philpott)
Strength: With all three positions up for grabs there's been plenty of competition among the linebackers throughout the year.

Weakness: The weakest position group on the defense. One of the most inexperienced position groups on the team, Brandon Maye is the only returning linebacker with a start in 2009.

Outlook: The majority of the snaps in 2009 were in a 4-2-5 look. Again in 2010, there could very well be only two linebackers on the field the majority of the season. Quandon Christian, Scotty Cooper and Daniel Andrews are in the mix at SAM (strong-side). Corico Hawkins and Spencer Shuey are competing at MIKE (middle) while Maye and Jonathan Willard are over at the WILL (weak-side). Justin Parker is will figure into conversation at the one of the three positions this fall.


Opposing quarterbacks will have to pick their posion this year- do you throw at All-American DeAndre McDaniel, or the next big thing in the Clemson defense, sophomore Rashard Hall? (Roy Philpott)
Strength: The starting four is comprised of three seniors and may quite possibly contain the best safety duo in the country with DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall. The ever-versatile Marcus Gilchrist, who can anywhere in the secondary, will start with fellow senior Byron Maxwell at cornerback.

Weakness: With last year's starting corners vying for spots on NFL rosters, there's room on the backend of the rotation. Coty Sensabaugh, Xavier Brewer and Spencer Adams figure to lockdown the rest of the snaps.

Outlook: It'll be tough for McDaniel and Hall to match or surpass their combined interception total from last season. The ball-hawking duo should be able to hit double digits, though. It'll be interesting to keep any eye on Gilchrist, who could be all over the place again. Darius Robinson, Bashaud Breeland and Garry Peters (if accepted into school) could be vying for one spot to avoid a red shirt.


MVP: S DeAndre McDaniel

Top NFL Prospect: DE Da'Quan Bowers

On the Rise: MLB Corico Hawkins

Top New Comer: LB Justin Parker

Unsung Hero: DB Marcus Gilchrist Top Stories