Position Analysis: Coach Harbison and the DB's

 

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Clemson's defense had a pretty good year in the passing department thanks to good corner play and great play from the Clemson safeties.  Over the course of the 2010 season, DeAndre McDaniel emerged as nothing short of a ball hawk, recording 8 interceptions on the season.

Charlie Harbison came to Clemson in December 2008 as the defensive backs coach.  Coach Harbison played his college ball at Gardner-Webb and signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent following his college career.  Harbison has coached bot hdefensive backs and wider receivers on the collegiate level, with stops at Gardner-Webb, UTEP, Clemson, Alabama, LSU, and Mississippi State before being lured back to Clemson for a second tour of duty by Coach Swinney.  It should be noted that he served as defensive coordinator in his final year at Miss. St.  Harbison's first stint at CU was from 1995-1997, where he coached defensive stars Brian Dawkins, Dexter McCleon, Antwan Edwards, and  Leomont Evans.

Here are the main performance metrics that we will use to grade our defensive backs coach:

  • Recruiting
  • Coverage ability
  • Run support
  • Tackling

Coach "Cheese" Harbisonis known to be an excellent secondary teacher who emphasizes fundamental tackling and a hard hitting attitude in addition to good coverage techniques by his safeties and corners.  We were all pretty pleased withthe efforts of the secondary on the season, and with the exception of a few blown coverages, put together a pass defense effort that was tops in the ACC and #7 in the NCAA.  From a recruiting aspect, CH was able to land Darrell Smith last season and has really turned it up this season, getting commitments from David Beasley, Desmond Brown, Demont Buice, Corey Crawford, and Darius Robinson, all 3-4 star talent.  Harbison recruited Georgia, Alabama, and parts of North Carolina (Gastonia and Shelby) hard for the Tigers, and Clemson is obviously reaping the benefits of his efforts.  All in all, we are extremely pleased withthe efforts shown by Charlie and his secondary and think he is an excellent asset to this program both on the field and on the recruiting trail.  Coach Cheese was named one of Rivals Top 25 recruiters this year, another testament of how good of a job he is doing at Clemson.  There is a reason that Harbison has been around some good programs and was a defensive coordinator at Miss. St.--he is a real asset and makes programs better, as indicated by Florida's attempted courtship earlier this month.

Overall, the technique played by our defensive backs is pretty good. I was pleasantly surprised with the way our personnel reacted to Kevin Steele's more aggressive defense and thought that the unit played well in 2 and 3 deep looks as well as in cover 4, all critical to allow the defense to employ more zone-blitz schemes. Clemson's pass defense was well ranked (see below) with DeAndre McDaniel tied for 3rd in the nation with 8 ints and freshman Rashard Hall tied for 19th nationally with 6 interceptions on the season.  While we did get beat a few times, I don't think these items were indicative of poor technique coaching, just spot incidents, nor do I think that the players were unprepared entering the football game.

Clemson's secondary was able to help with run support on the year.  A prime example of this is the effort of the safeties shown by Gilchrist's 107 total tackles, McDaniel's 102 stops, and Hall's 63. All in all, these safeties play physical football, with McDaniel sticking out in my mind as the most physical of the group (he is built like a linebacker withthe speed of a DB...perfect for his SS position).  For the most part I thought this group did an adequate job with run support overall.

If there is one thing that I will harp on, it will be tackling.  I always complain about missed tackles because it is one of my pet peeves. Clemson has a tendency of going for the knockout shot sometimes and does not wrap up the offensive player. I was looking through highlights earlier and noticed how many times Clemson did not wrap up.  The only thing worse than not wrapping up is arm tackling.  However, while I will not condone any missed tackle/non-effort to wrap up/arm tackle, I have come to the conclusion that these things do happen (especially arm tackles in the open field) and don't see this as a glaring concern at the present time, just things that must constantly be worked on each and every day.

Defensive Statistics:


Overall_defensive_rankings_09_dbs_medium

(thanks NCAA.org)

Turnover_statistics_09_dbs_medium


Defensive_statistics_09_dbs_medium

 (thanks ClemsonTigers.com

Individual Player Analysis:

Chris Chancellor is a 5th year senior from Miami Florida.  Chris came into this season as a starter for the majority of his career.  Chancellor has given the Tigers a lot of good snaps over the past 3-4 years at the corner back position. On the season, Chancellor had 49 tackles, 9 pass breakups and an interception, totalling 9 picks and 157 total tackles over the course of his Clemson career (2009 game by game statistics here).  On the season, I was pleased with Chancellor's performance. There were a few times (first Ga Tech game at the end of the game sticks out) where he and the safety left gaps in zone coverage, but for the most part I was comfortable with him on the perimeter. 

The play that everyone really remembers from Chancellor is the decleater he layed on the Nebraska running back in last year's Gator Bowl.

or the pick against USC in '08:

Crezdon Butler's story is similar to Chancellor's.  Butler has contributed greatly for the Tigers over the past four years, giving the Tigers two good corners.  On the year, Butler had 36 tackles, one sack, an interception, and 10 PBU's.  Butler has scored 11 total picks for his career alongwith 166 total tackles (game by game statistics here).  Coverage here was acceptable and Butler did a good job showing great instincts at times on running/screen plays to provide support at the LOS. 

The big play that sticks out to me for Crezdon this season is the 3rd quarter GT TD scored on 3rd and long.  Butler was sucked in and lulled to sleep by Georgia Tech's running game and his need to provide run support.  A double move by GT's Thomas (who is an excellent blocker) allowed the WRto get open for the long, crucial touchdown.  Otherwise, this year was a year of some hard hits and good coverage by both of the starting corners.  I would have liked to see Butler coming off a corner blitz more often this season, but was pleased to see him get physical when he needed to on the perimeter.  Replacing these guys will be one of the challenges that Harbison must face going into next season.

Butler highlights:

Byron Maxwell was able to give the Tigers some quality snaps this season.  The Charleston native has been known as a physical player his entire Clemson career. We think Byron will be able to step in and replace one of the two we lose this year. Byron charted well over 300 snaps in the 2009 season along with 36 tackles, a handful of PBU's, two interceptions and a forced fumble (game by game statistics here).  But the other CB position will be left to an underclassman, or Gilchrist will move over to Corner.

Here is a good example of Byron Maxwell keeping his head up and playing the ball (keeping the receiver in peripheral vision) in zone:

One of the likely underclassmen who may start opposite Byron Maxwell is Junior Coty Sensabaugh. Cody was in on 142 snaps with his most memorable one being an interception against Florida State (game by game statistics here).  His second quarter pick against the 'Noles occurred deep in Clemson territory and stopped a possession that would have extended FSU's lead (was 17-14 Seminoles at the time).  Here, Coty was able to watch the QB and make a nice break on a rushed Ponder pass.  Sensabaugh also contributed in 13 games this season with 14 total tackles on the year and will definitely see action during the 2010 season.

FSU interception:

Xavier Brewer will be in competition with Cody Sensabaugh for a starting corner spot.  Brewer, a four-star rising Soph from Jacksonville, FL, was also in on a fair amount of snaps on the 2009 season (119) and logged 15 total tackles (game by game stats here).  Brewer has been noted for his ability to hit and should provide some physical play to help with run support in addition to his pass coverage requirements.  Regardless of who starts, I expect to see a good bit of Brewer on the field next year.

Marcus Gilchrist is a versitile player who can play either safety or cornerback. Gilchrist again played an important part in the '09 campaign registering 902 snaps, 107 total tackles, 6 PBU's, 2 tackles for loss, and a quarterback sack (game by game stats here).  The emergence of Rashard Hall will allow the staff to move Gilchrist around the defensive backfield in a liberal fashion, if they wish. Gilchrist is an extremely hard worker and a total team player who is highly regarded by both coaches and scouts. I also expect Marcus to be involved heavily in special teams next season in addition to his role in the defensive backfield. 

Gilchrist forces a fumble against FSU:

Sadat Chambers has bounced around like a pinball since arriving at Clemson.  Chambers has played corner, safety, strongside lb, and running back since coming to Clemson from Central HS.  Last season at the safety spot, he was involved in 263 snaps on the '09 campaign and recorded 20 tackles (game by game stats here).  While Chambers was on the field a fair amount for the Tigers this past season, Clemson has some nice players at the safety position and should not be affected by his graduation.

DeAndre McDaniel...the man. McDaniel had a really nice 2009 campaign, earning a host of honors including being voted to the Football Writers All-America team.  McDaniel tied for third in the nation with interceptions (8 on the year) and recorded 102 tackles on nearly 900 snaps on the season.  McDaniel had a couple PBU's, 2 sacks, and 5 QB pressures for the '09 campaign (game by game stats here).  McDaniel is a legit NFL player who tinkered with the idea of entering the draft before deciding to return to Clemson for his senior season, stating that he wanted a championship here at CU before leaving.  McDaniel is the total package:  quick, with excellent instincts, an absolute ball hawk who can lay a vicious hit on any offensive player carrying the football.  Every game this year seemed to be a highlight for DeAndre, but his picks against FSU and Miami along with the big hit he laid against GT really stick out in my mind.  Clemson is very fortunate to have this  guy as not only a pass defender but a run-support force man who will contribute greatly (again) to this Clemson defense.  We could praise McDaniel more, but anyone who has watched Clemson this year knows how good this guy really is, see video below.

DeAndre McDaniel highlights:

 

Rashard Hall is the other end of what looks to be a fine safety duo for the tigers in 2010.  Hall had a great year as a redshirt FR in '09, hauling in 6 INT's, 63 tackles,and 3 TFL's.  As we have stated before, this guy will be a star before he is done at this university.  Hall is a pretty sharp cat both on and off the field and has been praised by Kevin Steele for his extreme knowledge of the game.  Physically, Hall has all the tools it takes to be the best FSin America.  Last season Hall was named to a variety of all-Freshman teams (both ACC and nationally).  The only advice I can give Hall is to try to avoid lateraling the football when he is being tackled, or we will kill you. Otherwise, he has become a football magnet and contributes significantly to this defense.  We are excited about having this guy in CU's secondary for three more seasons.

FSU Int:

Coastal Int:

Freshmen Spencer Adams, Carlton Lewis, and Jonathan Meeks each saw limited playing time in 2009. 

Jonathan Meeks, a Rock Hill native and '09 freshman (spent '08 at Hargrove) was highly regarded coming into school and appeared to be in position to gain some early playing time in 2009.  Meeks at various points during last season was listed directly behind DeAndre McDaniel at the strong safety position.  Meeks was in on 54 snaps and recorded 6 tackles and one interception (int was recorded late in the BC game) on the season.  As stated earlier, Meeks definitely has the ability to play SS for the Tigers.  His frame (6'2" 185 lbs) sets him up nicely and his quickness and instincts shown in prep school and throughout camp last August.

Spencer Adams also came to Clemson highly tauted from high school.  Unfortunately, an ACL injury sidelined Adams in '08.  All items that I have seen show Adams as a work in progress.  His knee injury definitely put him behind from his time at Clemson.  Adams possessesa nice frame (6' 2") and has dazzling speed, but lacks some coverage skills that will need to be refined if he is going to get more playing time. He very well may be the fastest player on the team now with Ford and Spiller gone. Look for his name to show up in Spring ball, especially if he can lay hits like this on non-kickers:

Carlton Lewis played a limited role in 2009.  After redshirting in '08, he saw action in 19 snaps over 9 games and recorded 6 total tackles.  Early in the '09 season, Lewis was listed as the third team strong safety but received little playing time over the course of the year.  I expect to see him maintain a similar role this season.

Clemson is bringing in at least five (5) recruits in the 2010 class that will to beef up the secondary.  See table below for their overview (thanks to scout.com/cutigers for the information). We note that Rivals ranks some of these guys considerably higher.

Player Name Position National Rank (scout.com) Star Ranking (scout.com) High School Hometown Height/Weight/40 Commiment Date
Garry Peters CB 52 3 Heritage HS Conyers, GA 6-1/180/4.50 8/3/2009
Darius Robinson CB 56 3 Westlake HS Atlanta, GA 5-11/171/4.40 7/30/2009
Martin Jenkins CB 94 3 Centennial HS Roswell, GA 5-9/165/4.44 7/27/2009
DeAndre Hopkins S 14 4 D W Daniel HS Central, SC 6-2/174/4.60 3/7/2009
Desmond Brown S 66 3 Cherokee County HS Centre, AL 5-11/185/4.64 7/16/2009
Bashaud Breeland S 27 4 Allendale-Fairfax HS Fairfax, SC 6-2/190/4.50 6/12/2009

Garry Peters' commitment to the Tigers brought the Tigers another corner to add depth to a squad that loses its two starters from '09.  His pledge was the 4th DB commit in a two week period for Clemson over the summer.  Peters, at 6'1", 180 lbs, has the frame to be a physical man on the perimeter.  His strengths lie in his size and physical play.  Peters will need to work on his quickness and coverage technique.  He chose Clemson over Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

We talked about Darius Robinson a little bit when he committed in the summer.  Robinson, like Peters, is known for his physical play.  He sports a 3.4 GPA and a 1370 SAT score, so you would expect him to pick up schemes quickly.  The coaches will want to get him in the weight room immediately to add some muscle and will also want to work with him on technical issues (footwork and acceleration out of breaks).

Martin Jenkins is the speed guy at corner for this class.  Jenkins accelerates well and makes a lot of plays on the ball at the high school level.  At 5'9" and 165lbs, Martin has been recorded a 4.3 second 40 on the track, so this guy can really fly.  Jenkins does a nice job in coverage, showing off his quickness and ability to accelerate to make plays on the football.  Jenkins still has a few technique issues to work on getting off the LOS and getting out of his backpedal.  We expect to see Jenkins return kicks at some point in his career because of his speed and quickness.

DeAndre Hopkins is the most highly ranked prospect.  While we think that Hopkins will play on the offensive side of the ball, he certainly has the skill set to contribute at the safety position if necessary.  If he plays on defense, I would suspect he would play safety because of his body control and and size.  He will need to work on backpedaling if he gets a look on defense.  Hopkins is arguably the best football recruit Clemson has coming in 2010 and will surely find the field on special teams at the least.

Desmond Brown is a 5'11" safety from Cherokee County HS in Centre, AL.  Brown was ineligible to play the first five (5) games of the 2009 high school season due to transfer issues (Brown lived in Rome, GA during the '08 season).  Brown runs a 4,64 40 yard dash and participated in the O-D all-star game earlier this year in Myrtle Beach.  Desmond committed to Clemson in mid-July and is eager to play with some of the incoming recruits at Clemson. 

Bashaud Breeland from Fairfax rounds up this group.  This 6'2" 190 lb safety is built for the position and does a good  job closing on the football.  Breeland, who also played QB at Allendale-Fairfax, does a good job of anticipating the play in front of him.  He will need to work on his tackling ability before seeing considerable action in the defensive secondary.

Projected Defensive Back Depth Chart
Corner Corner Strong Safety Free Safety
Byron Maxwell

Marcus Gilchrist,

Coty Sensabaugh

DeAndre McDaniel Rashard Hall

Xavier Brewer

Jonathan Meeks
Carlton Lewis Spencer Adams
*Darius Robinson *Martin Jenkins *Desmond Brown *Bashaud Breeland
 *Garry Peters     **DeAndre Hopkins

*Unless redshirted

**We expect Hopkins to play WR

The Verdict:  I wish every analysis we conduct for this team was similar to the defensive backs and their coach.  We are tickled to death to have Harbison at Clemson.  He is an excellent coach who really gets after it on the recruiting trail.  Clemson had one of the best secondaries in the country last year and appears  to be reloading at this position.  Clemson has the benefit of excellent safeties to choose from in Marcus Gilchrist and Rashard Hall at FS and DeAndre McDaniel at strong safety.  Clemson has an experienced Byron Maxwell who should be able to lock down a starting corner spot with Sensabaugh or Brewer likely playing on the other side.

The Tigers are in a spot now where they are not pressed to pull a freshman off the bench and can try to mold the youngbucks at a reasonable pace.  Clemson positioned itself well for the future with this nice class of defensive backs and with the talent we already have in place at CU.

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