Charles Clark knows the Rebel defense will be challenged in 2006, but that's nothing new.
"The SEC is all about challenges, not just year to year but play to play," smiled Clark, one of the leaders of the defense and the team. "If it was easy to play in this league, everyone would do it."
We approached the engaging Clark, who will be in his third year as a starter in '06, about letting us play devil's advocate and him defending the Rebel defense.
"I'll be glad to do that," he smiled. "I'm going to win this debate."
Let the grilling begin. . .
Spirit: All four starting defensive linemen graduated off last year's team. How can that area be improved?
Clark: I don't know if we will be better up front than we were last season. I'm not sure many people appreciated our front four the way they should have last year. Jayme Mitchell, Michael Bozeman, McKinley Boykin and Corvelli Haynes were really solid - and at times spectacular - for us last season. But I do think we will be as good as were were and we have a chance to be better because I think our depth will be better.
Spirit: You are not getting off that easily. Go into more detail.
Clark: From the offseason workouts and the early going of spring training, (DT) Brandon (Jenkins) has taken on a new intensity level and determination. There's never been any question about his ability, but he has not drawn that ability out of himself every play in the past. He has changed for the better. The move of Peria Jerry to defensive end has worked out great. He's dominant out on the edge - too big for tight ends, too quick for tackles. While Jayme and Corvelli were very good, they weren't dominant. Peria can be. (DT Jeremy Garrett) J.G. is a year older and about 10 pounds heavier, which he needed. He will be a Bozeman type who will make plays and be hard to handle. (DT) Hayward (Howard) will be a very good player once he gets in better shape and adjusts to the D-1 level. (DE Chris) Bowers is heavier and more experienced this year. He will do well. And the coaches signed some guys who have a chance to come in immediately and contribute, if not start, like Jerrell Powe and Marcus (Tillman) and Kentrell Lockett.
Spirit: All those guys are inexperienced in terms of starting except J.G. You have to do more convincing.
Clark: You are right, but they all know the system better, which will help their cause, they are all physically ready to make the step up and there are more players available. Last year, there wasn't a lot of competition there to make everyone better. Everyone knew the starting four was going to get most of the snaps. This year, there will be more competition in practice and guys will get better and better.
Spirit: OK. We'll reluctantly give you a mark on your DL assessment. What about losing K-Rob at LB and how you feel about the linebackers for 2006?
Clark: Kelvin (Robinson) was hurt some last year, so Quentin Taylor got a lot of reps and will be much better next season. He did OK last year. With another year under his belt, he will improve a lot. He is probably better suited for LB than K-Rob was, even though Kelvin did a great job for us. Patrick will be a lot better this year, and he was a man last year. Being in the same defense for the second year will help him more than people realize. Last year, he was making a lot of plays on sheer ability. Next year, he will know more and react even quicker and make even more plays. The same with Garry Pack. He will be more comfortable and will make plays he may have missed last year because of a split second of indecision. You can question me on the DL and I would understand (laughs) but I'm right about the linebackers. I know I am.
Spirit: What if one of them gets hurt?
Clark: Robert (Russell) has been in the system a year and won't be lost. LeRon King is a natural there if he puts on a few more pounds. Rogers Loche is much better - I can tell already. Brandon Thomas has gotten better due to having been in the system a year. And Antonio Turner will surprise everyone with his switch to LB from TB. He's already making plays in just five days of practice in spring.
Spirit: Now we'll get to your area. You lost a four-year starter at CB in Travis Johnson. How do you replace him and what of the other secondary positions?
Clark: Nate Banks was like a third starter a year ago and battled Travis every day for the starting slot. Experience won it for Travis, but Nate is probably more talented than Travis and it's his turn to shine. T-Mac (Trumaine McBride) will be a great corner this year. He was close to that last year and now he's bigger and stronger and more experienced and knows the system inside and out. Both the safeties - me and Jamarca Sanford - will be better having played in this defense a year. Plus B. Brown is having an awesome camp. He may end up starting somewhere, but if not he will be one of the best backups in the SEC. Before you ask, Dustin Mouzon, Terrell Jackson, Gary Riggs and Gary Albury are all ready to contribute and a couple of them are almost as good as the starters, so our depth is good there too.
Spirit: I want to believe you, I really do, but for the sake of argument, convince me some more on the overall unit.
Clark: We have five returning starters - me, T-Mac, P-Willie, Jamarca, and Garry - who have been in this system a year and know it backwards and forwards. Experience is everything. We have guys like Nate and B. who could have started last year. We have J.G. who did start a couple of games. We have Bowers who could have been a starter if not for a good senior year by Corvelli. Peria is going to be as good as anyone we've had up front since I have been here. Brandon is finally coming into his own and we have some really great recruits headed our way.
Spirit: What will have to show up statistically for your prediction to come true?
Clark: We have to get better on third down situations, especially third-and-long. We have to find a way to get ourselves off the field.
Spirit: Last question. Are you convinced the Rebs will be a better defensive unit in 2006 or are you just arguing because we asked you to?
Clark: We will be better, wait and see. Did I win?
Clark takes Spirit 'challenge'
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