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Defensive Backs

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Mark Fields

Trayvon Mullen

Brian Dawkins Jr.

A.J. Terrell

LeAnthony Williams

Kyler McMichael



Tanner Muse

Denzel Johnson

K’Von Wallace

Nolan Turner

Isaiah Simmons

Kyle Cote

Mario Goodrich

2018 Fall Preview

Entering the 2017 campaign, Clemson appeared to have quite a lot of depth at CB. Ryan Carter, Marcus Edmond, Mark Fields, Trayvon Mullen, Amir Trapp, and 5-Star newcomer, A.J. Terrell, appeared to give Clemson 3 solid CBs on the frontline and also a good nucleus of talent to develop at the position. That did not last long. Fields discovered that he hadn’t fully healed from a foot injury against Alabama in the Natty the previous year. Then, Edmond got injured against Auburn and missed the next 8 games. Fields had to play against Louisville and tweaked the foot. He sat out BC, gutted it out the next couple weeks, and then sat out the rest of the season until Alabama when he played mostly on ST.

Ryan Carter held down the Field Cornerback position and did a great job all season to cap off a surprisingly great career at Clemson. Mullen started and Terrell was forced into action at the Boundary Cornerback position. The two were solid, but unspectacular, until the 4th quarter of the FSU game when the light came on for Mullen.  From that point on, Mullen was a different guy and performed at an All-ACC level.

At Safety, Van Smith dropped 10 pounds and moved over from WS to SS, which is his more natural position. Tanner Muse, an elite level combination of size, strength, and speed, began the season as the starter at WS. Muse was exposed late in the game against Wake Forest for being too aggressive off the hash which led to a couple quick garbage time TDs for Wake.  The next three weeks, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and N.C. State, picked on him successfully for TDs. The staff made a double switch against NC State by moving K’Von Wallace to SS and Van Smith back to WS. Muse played sparingly the rest of the year and the performance on the back-end was much improved from there on out.

Surprisingly, Van Smith elected to turn pro after the season. He went undrafted, signing a FA deal with the Falcons.  Seniors Carter and Edmond also went undrafted and signed FA deals with the Bills and Chargers, respectively. Replacing those two this year are LeAnthony Williams, who comes off of a redshirt and newcomer, Kyler McMichael. He and S Mario Goodrich arrive in the fall.

Fall Camp Depth Chart

FCB: A.J. Terrell or Mark Fields, LeAnthony Williams, Brian Dawkins Jr.,
BCB: Trayvon Mullen, LeAnthony Williams, Brian Dawkins Jr., Kyler McMichael
SS: K’Von Wallace, Nolan Turner
WS: Tanner Muse, Denzel Johnson, Kyle Cote, Mario Goodrich

Entering camp, we have A.J. Terrell with experience working at both FCB and BCB. Terrell is listed as a co-starter at FCB with Mark Fields.  However, Terrell’s skill set is best suited for BCB. Fields, Dawkins, and Williams’ skill sets are best suited for FCB. The staff has implemented more cross-training than in years past which seemed to show that Terrell is a cut above the rest of the backups. True freshman Kyler McMichael could be referred to as the depth chart’s missing link. He is the BCB that can fill out the depth chart and get all this to make sense.

At safety we see the same issue. Denzel Johnson is a RS Junior that converted from CB after his freshman year. Since then, he has been a SS. This spring, with injuries to Muse and Turner, he filled the void at WS. As the elder amongst the backups, he gets the nod in the two deep at WS behind Muse. Turner, who could play either safety position but is probably better suited for WS, gets the nod over Hall Morton at SS. True freshman Mario Goodrich is the missing link that could allow the staff to move Denzel back to SS.

Season Depth Chart

FCB: Mark Fields, A.J. Terrell, LeAnthony Williams, Kyler McMichael or Brian Dawkins Jr.,
BCB: Trayvon Mullen, A.J. Terrell, LeAnthony Williams, Kyler McMichael or Brian Dawkins Jr.,
SS: K’Von Wallace, Denzel Johnson or Nolan Turner
WS: Tanner Muse, Nolan Turner or Mario Goodrich, Kyle Cote

This season at DB, the pecking order doesn’t fit a depth chart. For example, what we really have at CB is a 3rd CB in Terrell, a 4th CB in Williams, and a 5th CB that should be Dawkins at the beginning of the year and McMichael at the end of the year. I expect Terrell’s versatility to allow him to spell both Fields and Mullen in a “3rd starter” role that the fall camp depth chart attempts to show with normal depth chart constraints.

At S, it’s possible we see the same thing with Denzel being the 3rd S, Turner the 4th, and Cote giving way to Goodrich as the 5th at some point in the season. However, with Muse’s busts leading to several TDs last season, you have to think he will picked on and have a shorter leash than 8 games this year. That’s why I expect Turner and Denzel to work at both safety positions in camp as the staff figures out which one they will use if they have to “break glass” in case of emergency. Goodrich is the wild card that could impress and find himself in the 2-deep early on based on potential, and even become the starter (a la Jayron Kearse) later in the season. This is going to be one of the most important battles to pay attention to in fall camp.

The Kraken Depth Chart

FCB: Mark Fields, A.J. Terrell, LeAnthony Williams, Brian Dawkins Jr.
BCB: Trayvon Mullen, A.J. Terrell, Kyler McMichael
SS: K’Von Wallace, Denzel Johnson, Hall Morton
WS: Tanner Muse, Nolan Turner, Mario Goodrich, Kyle Cote

NB: Isaiah Simmons, A.J. Terrell / DB: A.J. Terrell, Denzel Johnson

2018 Spring Preview

We’ve had a lot of turnover from the defensive backs the past few seasons to where it seems like every spring, there is a new starting DB that is struggling and needs to improve a great deal before game one. (Jayron Kearse and Garry Peters 2014, Cordrea Tankersley 2015, Van Smith 2016, Mark Fields 2017).  This year, we surprisingly lost rising Senior Van Smith to the NFL, but for the first time in several years, we have players with starting experience at all four starting positions.

None of the four are spectacular, but the returning starter at BCB, Trayvon Mullen, is close. If he takes the next step this offseason, he could be the next shutdown corner for us on the boundary. Tanner Muse started the first 9 games at WS, but after he was beaten repeatedly by double moves, he was replaced. Van Smith moved back to his old position at WS and K’Von Wallace took over the SS position. Wallace started the last 5 games. Wallace was caught out of position at times and gave up some long plays, but he was more sound on the back end than Muse.

The starting FCB from last year, we will miss.  I would not have bet a dime that Ryan Carter would ever play meaningful snaps at Clemson, but by the middle of the 2015 season, he was a vital cog in the DB machine. The staff kept trying to give more physically gifted players opportunities to steal the job from Carter and he kept beating them out. If I could sign up for Ryan Carter-level performance at FCB every year, I’d do it right now. We have 4 scholarship CBs with more upside than him, but I’d still take the known commodity and complete football player that was Ryan Carter. Goodbye, sir, and thanks for saving our ass three years in a row.

The players replacing Van Smith and Ryan Carter on the team will arrive in the fall and they are S/CB Mario Goodrich and CB Kyler McMichael. LeAnthony Williams, a guy I like a lot with a ton of upside, is coming off of redshirt. We also lost backup CB Amir Trapp to transfer.

K’Von Wallace, Tanner Muse, Isaiah Simmons

Because of the havoc style of defense we play, the safety positions require a very low margin for error. A mistake in reading a key that leads to a misdiagnosis of a play will usually lead to a big play from the offense. In particular, the boundary-side safety has a very difficult job because he has more responsibilities in the run game.

Tanner Muse was cruising along as the starting WS last season and having a solid season until the Wake Forest game. At the end of the game, a desperate WF offense used the screen-and-go along with other double move/misdirection plays to pick on Muse. Muse was exposed and would end up being picked on by Syracuse and N.C. State in subsequent weeks. After NCS, Muse would play sparingly at WS. Heading into 2018, Van Smith is gone and Muse has another shot at the starting WS job. As one of the best combinations of size, speed, and strength on the team, Muse has all the tools needed to be an all-conference caliber safety. His problem is with read/reaction time and he will have to fix that in order to stay on the field. I expect him to be challenged often this spring as the staff tries to stress him and make him process information rapidly.

If Muse cannot fix his problems, the backup plan is Isaiah Simmons.  Simmons is splitting time at WS and Sam this spring. The staff would certainly like for Muse to win the WS job and to play Simmons at Sam. Unfortunately, Simmons also had some growing pains last year. He missed some reads at safety and was undisciplined at times as the Sam in the Dime of Doom. He will have a lot thrown at him this spring and hopefully by the end of fall camp, he will have both WS and Sam down pat.

K’Von Wallace is the starter at SS, and while his job is secure, he needs all the reps he can get back there. There were times where he would make the right initial read and then end up out of position later in the play. All three of these guys we are depending on and all three need to get better mentally.

Denzel Johnson, Nolan Turner, Kyle Cote

Johnson and Turner are a notch below the other 3 safeties athletically, but so was Robert Smith, and I’d take him back right now. Denzel Johnson is entering his 4th year in the program and knows both CB and S. I thought he took a big step forward last spring and, if he takes another one this spring, he can get an opportunity in games to show what he can do. Even if he outplays Wallace this spring, I don’t see him legitimately challenging him until late August. He needs to keep his head down, play hard, and know that if he is more sound than Wallace, his time will come.

Nolan Turner is a guy I like. He is a vicious hitter, has great instincts, and has a nose for the ball. He would probably classify as a 5-Heart signee, but he is better than that. I’d be interested to know how his reps are being split this spring between SS and WS. He can play both and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he found himself in the 2-deep post-spring.

Kyle Cote is a walk-on that has been playing on special teams the past two years. He is probably going to be running with the 3s this spring. I expect him to remain there and reprise his role on special teams next season.

Trayvon Mullen, Mark Fields, A.J. Terrell

During the FSU game, Trayvon Mullen grew up and became a high-level CB. He had 3 PBUs late in that game and followed that up with INTs against The Citadel and SC. He should be the undisputed starter at BCB and one of the better CBs in the ACC next year in my opinion.

Speaking of growing up, we saw that with Mark Fields during that tough stretch at the beginning of the season. He started to get his head around and make plays on the ball. Just as Tiger fans were rejoicing at his new found reliability, he injured his foot and we never saw him again. Hopefully, he is 100% for the spring and ready to take over at FCB for Ryan Carter.

For a true freshman, A.J. Terrell was excellent last year. I can’t remember a true freshman CB coming in and playing that well in a long time (Dexter Davis maybe).  Terrell has a BCB’s body and that’s probably where he’ll stay, even though Mullen has that spot locked down. I like Terrell as the NB this year, so hopefully the staff is getting him some reps there as well.

LeAnthony Williams, Brian Dawkins Jr.

I think LeAnthony Williams is the FCB of the future and he is my breakout candidate in the defensive backfield this spring. They could move Terrell over there to compete with Fields, but I would give the lion’s share of the #2 FCB reps to Williams. Hopefully, with all these reps, he is able to pick up the mental aspect of the game a little quicker than usual and play meaningful snaps for us in 2018.

On his high school film, Brian Dawkins Jr. looks a lot like Ryan Carter.  He plays like he thinks he’s 210, not 166. He has good technique and is tenacious. Since we only have 5 scholarship CBs on the roster right now, Dawkins should get a ton of reps and the staff should have a good idea of what they have in him by the end of this spring.


2017 Fall Preview

Fall Camp DB Depth Chart

FCB: Ryan Carter or Marcus Edmond, Mark Fields

BCB: Trayvon Mullen, K’Von Wallace, LeAnthony Williams

SS: Van Smith, Denzel Johnson, Nolan Turner

WS: Tanner Muse, Isaiah Simmons, A.J. Terrell

Van Smith

Great news! Unlike the past few years, the DB group performed extremely well in the spring game this year. It was a huge relief to see Van Smith and Tanner Muse look ready for primetime and it was a nice surprise to see the light come on for guys like Trayvon Mullen, Denzel Johnson, and Nolan Turner.  How much of that was on the absence of Deshaun, Mike, Jordan, and Artavis, is yet to be determined. However, I believe that with 5 high level starters for 4 positions entering fall camp Tiger fans can breathe a sigh of relief from where we were heading into camp the past 3 years.

Competition should make everyone better and the competition for spots in the 2 deep should be pretty intense. We backed up a truck and loaded up on DBs a couple years ago, and they are all poised to be contributors now. Furthermore, I expect the two incoming DBs to be a part of that mix and to be thrown into the fire after the first week or so of camp as well. Based on their skill set vs. the incumbent talent, I have Terrell as a WS and Williams as the heir apparent at whichever CB spot is not being manned by Mullen.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the DB lineup in Clemson’s post-spring depth chart was Isaiah Simmons being the 2nd team WS. He did not play WS in the spring game. He played Sam and played well.  I believe that the staff thinks his future is at Sam. So is this just a way to get him on the depth chart? Probably, but I’m not 100% sure, so I will list him at both positions for now.

Season DB Depth Chart

FCB: Ryan Carter or Marcus Edmond, Mark Fields

BCB: Trayvon Mullen, K’Von Wallace, LeAnthony Williams

SS: Van Smith, Denzel Johnson or Nolan Turner

WS: Tanner Muse, Nolan Turner or A.J. Terrell

This is mostly the same as above except that I have Isaiah Simmons removed from WS and Nolan Turner listed as a swing safety with the skills to play either position. This foreshadows where I think the real battle is going to be and will probably carry over into mid-season.  Can the true freshman 5-star recruit, Terrell, take the #2 WS spot at some point in the season? If so, will Turner or Johnson be the #2 SS? My thoughts on who wins are below.

To get him on the field, I think it is entirely possible that Simmons gets the role as the Dime Sam. Although, he would be a downgrade from O’Daniel right now. The Nickel Back battle is probably going to be Carter vs. K’Von again. K’Von was dangerously suspect at NB early in the year last year and had to be replaced by “Mr. Irreplaceable,” Ryan Carter.  I think Edmond, Fields, and Mullen will be vying for the two CB spots in Dime, but I think Fields gets one of them so he can have a role.

The Kraken DB Depth Chart

FCB: Ryan Carter or Marcus Edmond, Mark Fields, Amir Trapp, Brian Dawkins Jr.

BCB: Trayvon Mullen, K’Von Wallace, Cameron Scott

SS: Van Smith, Nolan Turner, Denzel Johnson, Kyle Cote

WS: Tanner Muse, A.J. Terrell, Jarvis Magwood

Marcus Edmond

I’d leave the starters how they are and continue to tighten them up as a unit in fall camp.  The ceiling is high for Mullen, Smith at SS, and Muse.  The floor is high for Carter and Edmond.

With so many solid players at CB heading into the season, I prefer a redshirt of LeAnthony Williams if he can’t make the 2-deep in fall camp. He could be an emergency CB if there are multiple injuries. Amir Trapp and Cameron Scott impressed me enough to where they could pull reps in a pinch.  I’d use Williams’ athletic gifts on scout team vs. Cain, RRM, Overton, Powell, et al. His reward would be an opportunity to start next spring.

Terrell can play anywhere in the defensive backfield but I would put him at WS. Terrell has great instincts in coverage, great ball skills, and has fearless aggression.  He is on the small side for a WS, but I don’t care. I would want him to learn the position by taking the 2nd team reps while Turner and Denzel would probably be the real backups.

I list Magwood and Cote here, but they aren’t going to be playing meaningful snaps, although Magwood could in a pinch if we needed it. Cote will likely be on special teams again, where they will ask him to block and tackle bigger men, and he does it pretty damn well. If you like rooting for a Chihuahua against a German Shepard, finding #32 on punt/punt return could be entertaining.


Pre spring 2017

Brian Dawkins

Brian Dawkins

The one thing that has been consistent over the past few years is that the DBs have been much better in the fall than they have been in the spring. The ability to develop DBs under Mike Reed has been very good despite the fact that we have lost at least 2 of the 4 starters every year since Reed has been here. This year, the big news in the secondary is the promotion of Mickey Conn to safeties coach. Reed will coach the cornerbacks. We have brought in a ton of DBs in the past two recruiting cycles and, in the short term, it makes a lot of sense to give these new DBs more attention. The jury is going to be out for a while on what kind of results to expect, but this is a positive move for DB development (hopefully, not at the expense of less prolific DL development).

  • 2014: FCB Mackenzie Alexander*, BCB Garry Peters, WS Robert Smith, SS Jayron Kearse*
  • 2015: FCB Mackenzie Alexander*, BCB Cordrea Tankersley, WS T.J. Green, SS Jayron Kearse*
  • 2016: FCB Carter/Edmond, BCB Cordrea Tankersley, WS Van Smith, SS Jadar Johnson

*NFL player

Dexter McLeonTommy West

Dexter McCleon with Tommy West

Here’s what I said about the DBs after last spring:

2017 is looking just as shaky as 2016. This is the hardest position group to project right now. The Tiger Secondary will lose both Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson after this season. Right now, those two figure to be our most reliable options. We will bring 7 DBs in over the next year or so (2016 and ’17 classes) though. I expect this is going to up the competition level and usually heat will make steel as long as the staff has properly evaluated the guys they are bringing in. Ideally, we have the light come on for a few of these guys and end up with a resurgence of All ACC caliber DBs.

Tank and JJ were our best DBs last year, and now that they are gone, the entirety of our starters and depth from 2014 and 2015 have departed. This opens up 2 starting spots and, as I suggested last year, probable position changes. One of the changes we projected last season is now set and that is Van Smith’s move from WS to SS.


This makes a lot of sense as far as matching up a players skill set with his responsibilities. Van was a nice upgrade over T.J. Green as far as making the correct read and maintaining depth when he was supposed to. His saved his biggest gaffe for the NCG, but for most of the year, Smith was very reliable. Where we took a step down last year was with Van’s play in the box. He improved as a tackler last year with the added weight, but he was nowhere near as imposing as T.J. Green was the year before.

With the move to SS, Smith will spend more time as the last line of defense and less time in the box. Of course, teams are going to target him by putting the ball on the edge, and he will have to respond, but this is a good move. Smith will be in position to do what he does best more often, and also assume a leadership role in the secondary as the SS is the primary on the field communicator to the DBs.

The other safety spot would appear to be Tanner Muse’s to lose. At 6’2″, 216, Muse is bigger, faster, and stronger than Smith, just less experienced. Obviously, the lack of experience is a concern because it is so easy in our defensive style of play to isolate the WS as a conflict player. One wrong run/pass read can allow a receiver to run free for an easy score. This is where the great development we’ve had reassures me that by the fall, Muse should be ready to go. He should draw first team reps all through the spring and fall camps, and outside of some initial nerves, should be able to settle in as a reliable option at WS. He may not have the eye discipline or football IQ Van had, but he should be the enforcer we missed against the run last year starting on day 1. With his size and speed, his ceiling is higher.


Donnell Woolford

The spots behind them at safety are totally up for grabs this spring. Korrin Wiggins was the starter at NB on the #1 ranked defense in 2014 but tore his ACL prior to the 2015 season. He returned last year and started out as the backup safety at both WS and SS and was given a role in the dime. After some athletic ineptness, Wiggins would lose time to O’Daniel and Carter in the dime and would lose the backup WS spot to Muse. Van Smith was moved in front of him to take the starting SS job. Now a senior, Wiggins had his career trajectory derailed here, but he is versatile and has a high football IQ. In 2016, I hated to see him look like a lesser athlete than he did his first two years here. Often, it takes a couple years to fully recover from a serious knee injury and let’s hope that was the case for Wiggins. If so, I’d like to see him win the backup SS job just to ease my mind that if something happened to Van, we would have an experienced guy at the DB captain spot that knows what he’s doing back there.


Terry Kinard

Denzel Johnson needs to have a big spring. Johnson was moved from CB to SS last year and the results in the spring were awful. In the fall, Johnson was much more comfortable at Safety although, he only played in mop up situations. Most of his action was on special teams. Johnson is now in the all-important 3rd year in the program. This is typically when a staff will show you where your place is in the pecking order.

Nolan Turner is a guy that, provided he works hard, I really like a lot as a future starter at SS. I am looking forward to seeing him in the spring game. Turner is aggressive, physical, and has great range. His instincts were excellent in high school and his skill set aligns nicely with what we need out of our SS. He makes plays. You notice him on the field. Unfortunately, Van Smith is blocking him there in 2017 and possibly 2018 as well, so the best he can hope for is a spot in the dime or to wrestle away a series or two per game.

Isaiah Simmons was the star of the weigh in last fall when he showed up with the body of a 30 year-old WWE wrestler. At 6’3″, 221, he looked more like a LB than he did a DB. We will definitely see him on special teams this year and with his body type, he is sure to be given a look as an “in the box” player. There is no need to cross-train him at CB or SS. He is either a WS or a NB/Sam. Currently, he is playing NB/Sam and I think could easily stick there and become the heir apparent to O’Daniel at Sam. Remember, a true NB is asked to be a slot CB on passing downs, so he is probably not the guy for the job. He could slide into the Sam spot in the Dime, but I think OD is going to be tough to beat out there also. So, he’s probably still a year away. Therefore, he may move positions again and be the heir apparent to Muse at WS.

Kyle Cote is a walk-on that played a lot on special teams last year. He’s best remembered by me as the guy that shut down SC’s fake punt attempt. Cote performed well in the spring game last year and also in mop up duty last fall. He can play. He’s just small. He plays much bigger than his billed weight of 180 though and is really good organizational depth to have. I’m mentioning him here because you’ll be seeing little #32 running around knocking people around on special teams for the next few years. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he put on 20 and found his way into the 2-deep before he graduates.

Baylon Specter is an early enrolled this spring and he’s going to be doing a lot of learning. He may flash some athleticism that gets him a special teams role but, I think the staff will redshirt him this year. We have enough freshmen and sophomore safeties that they need to see right now.


Technically, we will have the returning starter duo of Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond at FCB, but I don’t think either one of them starts at FCB. I am hoping that the starting FCB job will be won by Trayvon Mullen sooner than later. Mullen is an elite level cover CB with an NFL future. I expect him to lead the DB resurgence that is taking place in our freshmen and sophomore classes. In my opinion, Mullen is the next Mac, only with the potential to be better because he is a more physically gifted athlete. If Mullen is not the starter coming out of fall camp, something is going on with him mentally.

This will allow Ryan Carter to slide over to BCB where his skill set is a better fit. The staff keeps trying to bury Carter behind a better athlete and Carter keeps beating them out. He should wear a “Who’s Next?” shirt under his pads. Carter came in as a 5-heart player that was only offered to guarantee R.Nkemdiche’s commitment, but in hindsight, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that we have needed Ryan Carter more than we’ve needed Robert Nkemdiche. Don’t get me wrong, the staff shows us with their actions that they think of Carter as a 5-heart guy. However, everytime we’ve had a hole in the secondary the past couple of years, Carter has stepped in.

In fact, and this may shock you, but Pro-Football Focus graded out Carter as a top 10 cover CB in college football last year. While I question that his true ability is that good, I can see where statistically he had that good of a year. What is it about him, Kraken? He has elite level change of direction when moving backwards to forwards (called a one-step change). He’s so good at it, no team should ever throw a bubble screen to his side. His liability is his length and lateral movement, but his scrappiness helps him be serviceable downfield. He gets in to trouble when he has to cover for longer periods of time, so he is a guy that needs a strong pass rush to be successful. Because of his toughness against the run/screens, I like him at NB or at BCB.

This year’s contestant to try and beat out Carter is K’Von Wallace. Wallace was already moved ahead of Carter once when the staff initially turned to him to be the slot CB in the dime. The staff apparently told the ABC TV announcers that Wallace was “the best 1 on 1 cover guy on the team.” I did not see that at all and after a few toastings, apparently neither did the staff. Carter replaced him and Wallace was relegated to mop up duty for the stretch run. This spring, he is working at BCB and getting the same opportunity Mark Fields received last year.

Marcus Edmond’s season can be exemplified by two plays, the game sealing tackle against Louisville and the game sealing interception against N.C. State. It’s not normal for a scholarship player to be getting their first opportunity to play as a 4th year guy, but Edmond performed well in a platoon with Carter. Edmond was given a few series a game at FCB and was also the FCB in the Nickel and Dime when Carter moved over to NB as a 3rd CB. Now a senior, I expect Edmond to find some playing time, although probably not as much, at one of the CB spots, most likely FCB again.

I expect the backup at BCB, no matter who wins the job this spring, to be Mark Fields. This is a big spring for Fields because, even though he was a disappointment last year, he did show improvement late in the year. If he ever fixes the ball skills/pass interference issue, he could challenge for the starting spot and allow the staff to move Carter to NB permanently and redshirt LeAnthony Williams after fall camp.

Rounding out the 3-deep are a couple of 5-hearts in Amir Trapp and Brian Dawkins Jr. I don’t think most folks expect very much from either of these two during their career at Clemson but, anything is possible. Trapp played a little bit in mop up duty at FCB last year and performed pretty well actually. He is just so small that it’s hard to imagine him being on the field for meaningful snaps against FSU/Louisville/UNC-level WRs. Like Trapp, Dawkins is also very short, but he can lay a pop and mix it up with bigger WRs with physicality. He compares well with Ryan Carter in that he plays like he thinks he’s 220. He also has the fundamentals and football IQ to where he could find his way on the field like Carter did. Dawkins profiles as a BCB/NB by skill set and should be a fixture on special teams this season.


Over the past two seasons, Clemson defensive backs have given themselves the moniker, “No Fly Zone” and it was completely justified.  The combination of one of the best rushes in Clemson history along with some NFL caliber DBs, allowed Clemson to finish 1st in S&P Pass Defense in 2014 and finish 3rd in S&P Pass Defense in 2015 (also 1st and 26th in YPA allowed respectively).

Last year, Clemson replaced grinders Robert Smith and Garry Peters with more athletic players, T.J. Green and Cordrea Tankersley.  The returning starters, Mackenzie Alexander and Jayron Kearse were already top 5 players at their position from a talent perspective. Mac delivered on an All American level showing, but unfortunately, Kearse slacked off for half the year with an eye towards the NFL.

This year, Clemson will somehow have to try and replace Jayron Kearse, Mackenzie Alexander, and T.J. Green who have moved on to the NFL. Can it be done?

Honestly, I doubt it and if the spring game was any indication, this is going to be a humbling year on the backend for the Tiger defense.  Then again, the DBs were awful in last year’s spring game too. Mike Williams destroyed Mac and Kearse’s side and Renfrow and company blew up Tank and Green’s side. So, the combination of our WR talent and a hard fought fall camp could mean that Clemson will figure it all out and be ok in the secondary.


The one known commodity is Cordrea Tankersley at Boundary Cornerback. Tank’s improvement between the spring and fall camp last year was huge.  He solidified the BCB position that was played excellently the year before by “The Gambler” Garry Peters.  Like Peters, Tank displayed solid coverage and tackling skills and perhaps the best ball skills on the team.  At the beginning of the season he was tested profusely and he passed that test over and over. There were some reports that he would be moved to the field side this year, but he played at BCB in the spring game.

It appears that the Mark Fields experiment may have come and gone.  Fields must get some semblance of ball skills to where he is not a liability in coverage. He is a great athlete and does everything else well.  At FCB though, you can’t turn 50/50 balls

into 80/20 balls for the offense.

The coaching staff is hopeful that Adrian Baker can return at the end of September from the ACL injury he suffered in the spring.  I would say that expecting a guy to come back in 6 months and play at a high level is awfully optimistic. We are wishing him a speedy recovery for sure but I would not be counting on him.

So, by process of elimination, that leaves the speedy Marcus Edmond as the current starter at FCB.  Edmond showed the jets on a nice interception return in the spring game and then he quickly got beaten for a TD by McCloud. He ended up having a not-so-great day altogether.  I think he can improve in the offseason and will need to improve to have any chance of trying to fill Mac’s shoes against Auburn.  Right now, I’m thinking true freshman Trayvon Mullen is looking like a pretty good option.

Ryan Carter is the jack of all trades of the defensive backfield.  He’s solid at everything but also unspectacular at everything except for tackling.  He can play CB, S, or NB if he is needed.

Amir Trapp seems to have a similar build and skill set as Carter but he has yet to have the same breakout. He took his redshirt year last year but, he probably needs another year on scout team.


Jadar Johnson was a new man in the spring.  He was bigger, faster, and stronger than he was in the fall of 2015.  He takes over for Kearse at what is really our field side safety position that is called Strong Safety.  Johnson was already solid in deep coverage but displayed more toughness and athleticism in the spring game than we have seen before.  You have to wonder why JJ didn’t steal reps from Kearse last year when he was slacking off but, we all have to agree he looks like a new man now.

The Boundary side safety or Weak Safety is likely going to be Van Smith.  Smith had an incredible game against Miami where he delivered several big hits, was lights out in coverage, and even had an interception.   After that, he never showed that level of play again.  He even showed a tentativeness in tackling that seemed to stay with him in the spring game. That is not good. I am nervous about him.  The WS position in our defense is very important and requires a special type of player that can make quick decisions, cover, and play like a LB in the box.

The backups at Safety are Denzel Johnson and Tanner Muse.  Muse is big and physical so it’s possible that he could contribute.  Johnson was still adjusting to the move from CB to S as of the spring.  He looked a little lost out there to me.

If it looks like we are incredibly thin at Safety it’s because we are.  However, Nolan Turner, Isaiah Simmons, and K’Von Wallace are safeties that will arrive on campus in the fall.  None of them looked ready to go on film except for maybe Nolan Turner.  It’s possible that he shows up with enough size, speed, and physicality to play either safety position.  The problem is that do you really want a true freshman to be your most conflicted player or your last line of defense.  You think we gave up big plays in the National Championship Game?  Turner would have a target on his back and teams would not think twice about trying to confuse him.

Nickel Back

We played without a Nickel Back in the spring game and elected to let our slot WRs like Renfrow abuse Sam LBs like Jalen Williams.  However, we will certainly be using a nickel back next season a lot.

Hopefully, we will get to welcome back our stud Nickel Back from 2014, Korrin Wiggins. Wiggins is that player that can cover one-on-one and also play in the box and do damage.  That skill set also makes him a potential starter at safety as well. Wiggins was not healthy enough to perform in the spring so, it’s not a total lock that he will be ready to go in the fall either.  However, most of the accounts I’ve seen think he should be ready to go in August which will be a full year after his ACL tear.

The current state of the Defensive Backs is a little shaky right now.  There is going to need to be improvement over what we saw in

the spring game.  So, at this time I’m only comfortable handing out a C+.

Kraken Depth Chart

FCB-Marcus Edmond, SS-Jadar Johnson, WS-Van Smith, BCB-Cordrea Tankersley, NB-Korrin Wiggins

FCB-Mark Fields, SS-Nolan Turner*, WS-Tanner Muse, BCB/NB-Ryan Carter

FCB-Trayvon Mullen, SS-Denzel Johnson, WS-Isaiah Simmons, BCB-Brian Dawkins Jr.*, NB-K’Von Wallace

Early Look at 2017:

2017 is looking just as shaky as 2016.  This is the hardest position group to project right now.  The Tiger Secondary will lose both Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson after this season.  Right now, those two figure to be our most reliable options.  We will bring 7 DBs in over the next year or so (2016 and ’17 classes) though.  I expect this is going to up the competition level and usually heat will make steel as long as the staff has properly evaluated the guys they are bringing in.  Ideally, we have the light come on for a few of these guys and end up with a resurgence of All ACC caliber DBs.

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