Heated Battle Brewing At Cornerback For Clemson
Over the course of the 2019 season, the Clemson defense was one of the best in the nation when it came to defending the pass. The Tigers allowed just 172.3 yards per game through the air, good for fourth best in the country.
If the team is planning to duplicate that kind of success in 2020, they will have to rely on some new faces in the secondary. Clemson will need to replace one starting cornerback, as well as both starting safeties.
One of the biggest surprises in 2019 had to be cornerback Derion Kendrick. After spending his freshman season playing receiver, he was moved to corner last spring for depth purposes. He was such a natural it became his permanent home, as he started all 15 games and earned second team All-ACC Honors.
With Kendrick penciled in one side, the question then becomes who starts opposite of him. Not only who starts, but also who can lock up that third spot in nickel situations.
According to Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, there are no shortage of candidates. However, first comes deciding who starts, and the competition for playing time could get intense.
"Technically they’re all candidates," Swinney said when asked about that third corner spot. "Really depends on how it shakes out with the starting two corners."
After Derion Kendrick, there is no shortage of talent, albeit some do lack the experience. Rising junior Mario Goodrich is one player who could get a look, but after missing the shortened spring injured, he was never ever able to show how far he has progressed over the off-season.
"Right out of the gate," Swinney said, "Mario Goodrich is definitely a guy that could be a great true nickel. DK (Kendrick) could do it in a heartbeat. Mario was going to come back in the second half of spring practice, but obviously wasn’t able to do that."
Last season the Tigers relied a lot on safety K'Von Wallace as that third corner when they went with more than four defensive backs on the field. Like Terrell, he has now moved onto the NFL, taking with him a ton of experience.
"With 10 personnel and 11 personnel, you really need a third corner," Swinney said. "We used K’Von there. He gave us some flexibility there playing that true nickel position."
After Goodrich, there is no shortage of talented underclassmen. Rising sophomore Andrew Booth Jr is another extremely talented player that could be well suited to fill that role.
Booth is a former five star recruit out of Georgia and was one of the top 25 players overall in the 2019 class. Although, like Goodrich, Booth spent the shortened spring recovering from an injury suffered during the 2019 season.
Some other candidates could be true freshmen Fred Davis and Malcolm Greene. Both are former four star recruits, and with Davis enrolling early, he was able to get a leg up on his freshman counterpart.
"We’ve got some options," Swinney said. "Malcolm Greene will get here this summer. We’ll see where he is, and Fred Davis had a lot on his plate."
The team also has some young guys at safety that could fit the bill, although that seems unlikely. Swinney wouldn't rule it out entirely, however he did hint at the fact that they may not be ready just yet.
"We probably have a couple of those safety guys who fit that," Swinney said. "But they’re still pretty young."
With spring practice being canceled after just nine practices, fall camp becomes that much more important. With only so many reps to go around, each player will have to make the most out of every opportunity they get. The battle for playing time at corner could be one of the more interesting storylines of camp.