Position Analysis: Charlie Harbison and the Defensive Backs

AUBURN AL - SEPTEMBER 18: Darvin Adams #89 of the Auburn Tigers fails to pull in this reception against DeAndre McDaniel #2 of the Clemson Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 18 2010 in Auburn Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Charlie Harbison came to Clemson in December 2008 as the defensive backs coach.  Coach Cheese played his college ball at Gardner-Webb and signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent following his college career before coming back into coaching.  Harbison has coached both defensive backs and wide receivers on the collegiate level, with stops at Gardner-Webb, UTEP, Clemson, Alabama, LSU (under Saban), and Mississippi State before being lured back to Clemson for a second tour of duty by Coach Swinney as the Co-DC.  It should be noted that he served as the defensive coordinator in his final year at Miss. State.  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" Harbison is 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 fairly pleased with the efforts of the secondary on the season but did regress a bit from a year ago, largely due to the departure of 2009 starting corners Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor. For the coach himself, there is a reason that Harbison has been around some good programs and was a defensive coordinator at Miss. State--he is a real asset and makes a team better.

Clemson returned some quality talent for 2010, including All-American DeAndre McDaniel and Freshman All-American/ACC Rashard Hall.  The Tigers also kept some experience with Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell.  We discussed the impact of these two losses due to graduations, compared to the returning players, and expected a good group that would experience some drop-off but would overall provide acceptable play this year. Thats about what we got.

Harbison has recruited Georgia, Alabama, and parts of North Carolina (Gastonia and Shelby) hard for the Tigers over the years, and Clemson has reaped the benefits of his efforts. 

Charlie Harbison Recruiting History, (Clemson) 2009-Present

NAME

Position

Hometown

High School

Ht/Wt/40

Rivals Rating

Assigned Recruiter(s)

Class

Corey Crawford

DE

Chatham, VA

Hargrave Military Academy

6'5"/275/NA

4 stars

Charlie Harbison 

2011

Cortez Davis

DB

Daytona Beach, FL

Mainland

6'3"/200/NA

4 stars

Charlie Harbison, Jeff Scott

2011

Spencer Region

OL

Cullman, AL

Cullman

6'6"/330/5.5

3 stars

Charlie Harbison 

2011

Robert Smith

ATH

Dorchester, SC

Woodland

5'10"/200/4.6

3 stars

Dan Brooks, Charlie Harbison

2011

David Beasley

OL

Columbus, GA

Carver

6'4"/287/5.1

3 stars

Charlie Harbison 

2010

Desmond Brown

DB

Centre, AL

Cherokee County

6'0"/192/4.5

4 stars

Charlie Harbison 

2010

Demont Buice

RB

Gadsden, AL

Gaston

6'2"/205/4.5

3 stars

Charlie Harbison 

2010

Corey Crawford

DE

Columbus, GA

Carver

6'5"/235/4.8

4 stars

Charlie Harbison 

2010

Darius Robinson

DB

Atlanta, GA

Westlake

6'0"/170/4.4

4 stars

Charlie Harbison 

2010

Darrell Smith

DE

Gadsden, AL

Gadsden City

6'3"/237/4.6

2 stars

Charlie Harbison, Dabo Swinney

2009

Harbison's 2011 signees included Corey Crawford, who had previously been placed at Hargrave and is currently enrolled at Clemson, Cortez Davis from Daytona Beach, Spencer Region (late commitment from the state of Alabama who chose CU over Auburn), and Robert Smith.  Harbison did a nice job working with the younger Scott to assure Davis maintained his commitment to Clemson (after Rumph left) and worked well with the rest of the staff to get Region on board near Signing Day.

Charlie's other targets for the 2011 recruiting class included Riyahd Jones, Geraldo Orta, and Desmond Wills.  We feel Harbison is a better recruiter than some give him credit and think that his role/responsibilities should be expanded.  Coach Cheese knows the Southeast and knows how to recruit (he was named to the 2010 Rivals top 25 recruiters list if you need proof).  Harbison put together a nice 2010 campaign and pieced together some good results in 2011.  As you know, we grade by body of work and this group certainly holds its own. This may have been a down year for Harbison, but he landed his main DB targets last season and we cooled on Orta late. We specifically think that Harbison should be given more of Pearman's territory in South GA.

2010 Defensive Back Results

The 2010 Clemson secondary, overall, was a good unit.  The Tigers were not the jam up, near elite unite they were a year ago, but again that was expected from us. Last year Clemson fans didn't appreciate the job Butler and Chancellor did in man/man coverage.  The biggest issues that we saw with this secondary were neither technique nor ability related but were due to mental mistakes and derived from practice philosophy.  This unit, and the defense in general, played well enough to win sans a play or two that really cost the Tigers. 

The secondary gave up a huge TD reception that capped a third quarter Auburn offensive explosion.  Clemson again played well against UNC minus a 51 yard completion that set up a late 1st half touchdown.  Miami had a large passing day against our Tigers that was aided by the key turnovers by the Clemson offense --- and DMac having his teeth knocked in.  Miami was able to exploit key matchups and was able to take advantage of big mental mistakes by the CU pass defense.  The only game that this secondary was flat out beaten was against South Carolina and USC's Alshon Jeffery.  Throughout the year, stars like DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall had brain cramps and made a few poor decisions that marred otherwise good performances which ultimately gave up points.

Overall, we are pleased with the general coverage ability.  Coach Harbison does a good job teaching technique and it is apparent with this group as the season progressed. We did not expect them to be all-star this year and they did show improvement as the season wore on, thats coaching.  As mentioned earlier, Clemson had relatively few coverage gaffes and most of their mistakes were mental mistakes that really hurt this team. The team proved that it did, for the most part, understand the coverage schemes and how to implement them.

Clemson had a decent run defense in 2010 (see below). The Tigers were exceptionally strong up front and improved at linebacker, but one should also credit the defenders in the secondary for providing adequate run support as a whole as well.  The defenders filled their gaps from the safety position and took proper pursuit angles overall.  As shown below, DeAndre McDaniel led the charge with 84 tackles on the season.

We were disappointed with the Clemson corners' inability to get off of some open field blocks and complete pursuit angles/make tackles closer to the LOS. Our secondary is not good at getting off blocks whatsoever. We think that Clemson's inability to perform better in this area is a direct result of Clemson's practice strategies. As Coach Ford told everyone, Clemson does not hold physical practices. This does not give our two-deep players the quality reps that they need against other collegiate 1's and 2's. The Tigers need to get the 1's on 1's -- get our best receivers blocking against our best defensive backs.  Both groups desperately need the work and this is the only way that both groups will get better. The Tigers need to get more physical and get after it on the practice field. 

Tackling, as you now, is a pet peeve of ours. We hate missed tackles almost as much as we hate Georgia. This group, I will say, did a good job of getting in position and bringing guys down. The only complaint that I have about DB tackling would be the desire to go for the "kill shot," effectively turning the defender into a missile that does not wrap up its target. While I like hard-hitting, I like wrapping up more. Ideally, the defender will make a good form tackle and drive the offensive player. Clemson's defenders also had a tendency to tackle high. You know we harp on level of play, body position, and leverage points. We would like to see the DBs tackle with their facemask at or under sternum-level and arms wrapped around the ball carrier's waste, not grabbing the defender up high. On a positive note, this group does a good job of not arm tackling.

Again, Coach Cheese has done a nice job with the DBs this season.  Harbison is a dream assistant coach as he relates well with the players, understands football fundamentals, understands game play and, most importantly, understands how to teach the players how to properly play their position(s).

In case you are curious, here is what we thought of Harbison following the '09 season.

2010 Defensive Backs Roster

NO

Name

Position

Height

Weight

Class

Hometown

9

Spencer Adams

CB

6-2

185

SO

CHARLOTTE, NC

17

Bashaud Breeland

S

6-0

190

FR

ALLENDALE, SC

29

Xavier Brewer

CB

5-11

180

SO

JACKSONVILLE, FL

37

Kantrell Brown

S

6-0

190

JR

SAINT MATTHEWS, SC

45

Desmond Brown

S

6-0

190

FR

CENTRE, AL

12

Marcus Gilchrist

CB

5-11

190

SR

HIGH POINT, NC

31

Rashard Hall

S

6-2

195

SO

SAINT AUGUSTINE, FL

27

Martin Jenkins

CB

5-10

170

FR

ROSWELL, GA

25

C.J. Jones

CB

6-0

170

FR

LINCOLNTON, GA

35

Mansa Joseph

CB

5-11

205

JR

SALTERS, SC

30

Shawn Leonard-Horwith

CB

5-11

200

SR

LA CRESCENTA, CA

32

Carlton Lewis

S

6-3

205

SO

SAINT AUGUSTINE, FL

36

Byron Maxwell

CB

6-1

200

SR

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC

2

DeAndre McDaniel

S

6-1

215

SR

TALLAHASSEE, FL

5

Jonathan Meeks

S

6-1

205

SO

ROCK HILL, SC

38

Garry Peters

CB

6-0

175

FR

CONYERS, GA

21

Darius Robinson

CB

5-10

170

FR

COLLEGE PARK, GA

15

Coty Sensabaugh

CB

6-0

180

JR

KINGSPORT, TN

48

Dante Stewart

CB

5-10

180

FR

SWANSEA, SC

 

2010 Defensive Backs Statistics

Player

Position

G-S

Snaps

Hit

Ast

Total

TFL

Sacks

PBU

QP

ST

DeAndre McDaniel

S

13-13

790

64

20

84

5.5-17

 --

6

2

2

Marcus Gilchrist

CB

13-13

790

46

20

66

3-6

 --

10

1

 --

Rashard Hall

S

13-12

621

44

21

65

1-1

 --

3

1

9

Xavier Brewer

CB

13-10

649

40

14

54

5.5-27

1-3

8

2

6

Byron Maxwell

CB

13-8

562

37

11

48

3.5-8

 --

7

 --

8

Coty Sensabaugh

CB

13-3

352

21

7

28

1-1

 --

2

8

--

Jonathan Meeks

S

13-1

256

19

9

28

--

 --

2

7

 --

Martin Jenkins

DB

11-0

62

8

1

9

 --

 --

1

 --

1

Spencer Adams

CB

9-0

62

5

2

7

 --

 --

 --

 --

2

Michael Wade

QB/S

13-0

0

5

2

7

 --

 --

 --

 --

7

Kantrell Brown

S

12-0

10

4

2

6

 --

 --

 --

 --

4

Carlton Lewis

S

9-0

115

3

2

5

 --

 --

 --

 --

 --

Darius Robinson

CB

7-0

73

1

1

2

 --

 --

 --

 --

 --

Mansa Joseph

CB

12-0

0

0

2

2

 --

 --

 --

 --

2

C.J. Jones

CB

1-0

9

0

0

0

 --

 --

 --

 --

 --

Shawn Leonard-Horwith

CB

1-0

3

0

0

0

 --

 --

-- 

-- 

-- 

 TOTALS

4354

297

114

411

19.5-60

1-3

39

21

41

 

2010 Defensive Back Interception Statistics

Player

Position

G-S

Int

Yards

Avg

TD

LG

DeAndre McDaniel

S

13-13

4

33

8.3

0

33

Xavier Brewer

CB

13-10

2

61

30.5

1

61

Rashard Hall

S

13-12

2

52

26

1

52

Byron Maxwell

CB

13-8

2

0

0

0

0

Darius Robinson

CB

7-0

1

0

0

0

0

Jonathan Meeks

S

13-1

1

43

43

0

43

Marcus Gilchrist

CB

13-13

1

0

0

0

0

Coty Sensabaugh

CB

13-3

1

0

0

0

0

Totals

14

189

13.5

2

61

 

The biggest contributors to the 2010 Clemson secondary were DeAndre McDaniel, Marcus Gilchrist, Rashard Hall, Xavier Brewer, Byron Maxwell, Coty Sensabaugh, and Jonathan Meeks.  These guys received the vast majority of the snaps as starters and backups. 

Looking over the last two years here are our main defensive stats:

2009 Clemson NCAA Defensive Ranks
Rushing Defense 151.50 67th Nationally 7th ACC
Pass Efficiency 110.88 21st 3rd
Pass Defense 162.79 7th 1st
Scoring Defense 20.43ppg 25th 4th
Total Defense 314 20th 3rd

Other 2009 NCAA Defensive Categories
Sacks per game               2.57 27th Nationally 2nd ACC
Sacks 36 13th 1st
Tackles for Loss 7.29pg/102 total  12th/8th 2nd
Interceptions 21 5th 1st

2010 NCAA Defensive Rankings
Rushing Defense 128.46ypg 28th  Nationally 5th ACC
Passing Efficiency Defense 116.24 27th 5th
Pass Defense 191.85 22nd 2nd
Scoring Defense 18.77ppg 13th 1st
Total Defense 320.31 19th 2nd

Other 2010 NCAA Defensive Rankings
Sacks Per Game 2.38pg 32nd Nationally  5th ACC
Total Sacks 31 T-28th 4th
Tackles for Loss 7.38pg 10th 3rd
Interceptions 15 34th 6th

We should also note that Gilchrist provided good effort and results in the return game and trying to fill the shoes of '09 return men C. J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford

Coty Sensabaugh and Xavier Brewer gained some big experience last season and Coty will be expected, as a 2011 senior, to be a leader for this group. Coty's speed is good enough but we don't feel good about his ball skills. We would be surprised if he maintained a starting spot all year in 2011.

Xavier Brewer had a tough start to the season this year, but we believe this is due to inexperience more than anything. As the season progressed, his technique in man/man and zone coverage did improve. Unfortunately some of the biggest busts after the Miami game are on him. We do expect him to improve further, but if he doesnt, Robinson will take his spot. These two, along with Hall and Meeks, will see a lot of snaps in '11.

Rashard Hall did not make as big of an impression in '10 as he did his freshman season. Still, Hall has all the talent to become a big-time safety in the collegiate game and we would not be surprised one bit to see him become the face of the '11 secondary and continually improve into his junior season.  We expect big things out of him and are optimistic about the safety position next year with Hall and Meeks filling this role.

Everyone knows about the career that DeAndre McDaniel had at Clemson and his name will be associated with some of the best defensive backs in school history.  McDaniel was Freshman All-ACC for the 2007 season.  He played the linebacker position in 2008 before permanently moving back to the safety position in 2009, where McDaniel had a remarkable season and garnered All-America honors. DeAndre returned for his senior season and came away with four interceptions and 84 total tackles in 2010. McDaniel did not have as big a year this season as last but still played well as a whole. Some of the lack of INTs (for Hall as well) is due to the ability of the cover corners this year. If the WR is covered, the Safety can go to the ball. In addition, it seemed to us that we played a bit less 2-MAN coverage this year than before. When Clemson goes to Cover 1, either DMac or Hall becomes "free" and the other is matched up.

Overall, DeAndre has drawn many comparisons to former Clemson standout safety Brian Dawkins. McDaniel is a hard-nosed, tough safety who emerged as a ball hawk. He deserves all the accolades he receives. In addition to being an excellent athlete, McDaniel showed excellent leadership ability and accepted responsibility for any defensive shortcomings. Clemson was fortunate to have him around for four years and McDaniel will have a nice professional career.

Marcus Gilchrist was really a jack-of-all-trades for Clemson's secondary the last few years. He played FS in 2009 and more Nickel/Money/CB in 2010, but was almost always on the field somewhere. He likely ends up doing the same things in the NFL. We will miss his versatility greatly, though at times he was more worried about what everyone else's job was in the secondary than his own.

Byron Maxwell didn't have as strong a season as we had hoped. He's big and good in run support, but got beat deep quite a bit. His footwork tends to get sloppy and that leads him to be out of position. While we don't blame him for getting beat by Jeffery, he did get beat by some guys who had no business getting past him.

In addressing the play of minor players on the snap-count above, we look unfavorably on the decision to play Darius Robinson. 73 snaps for a true freshman is a waste of a year. CB is a position where a young guy can come in and play soon and actually help out, but looking over his participation charts he really didn't get used. The staff took him off, in our opinion, because Brewer struggled so mightily in the first half of the year. When Brewer got better they didn't use him. He should've been redshirted but we understand the decision at the time. Martin Jenkins is a guy that we knew would not be, and may end up as a KR/PR next year.

Incoming Players

2011 Recruiting Class Defensive Back Signees 

NAME

Position

Hometown

High School

Ht/Wt/40

Rivals Rating

Assigned Recruiter(s)

Class

Cortez Davis

DB

Daytona Beach, FL

Mainland

6'3"/200/NA

4 stars

Chris Rumph /Charlie Harbison/Jeff Scott

2011

Adam Humphries

DB

Roebuck, SC

Dorman

5'11"/176/4.5

2 stars

Jeff Scott 

2011

Robert Smith

ATH

Dorchester, SC

Woodland

5'10"/200/4.6

3 stars

Dan Brooks 

2011

 

Robert Smith is an athlete from Dorchester.  Smith had a standout career at Woodland playing quarterback but will certainly play in the defensive backfield at Clemson.  Robert's first experience playing safety/OLB was at the North/South All-Star game last month.  Smith originally flirted with the idea of enrolling early but chose to begin his time in Tigertown this summer. While we can't blame him for taking the rest of his senior year, we would've, it would've been better for his advancement if he did enroll early because he just has so much to learn.  Smith will need to spend vast amounts of time working on defensive back techniques and his footwork in general.  I would not be too surprised to see Smith redshirt in '11, particularly if he cannot develop proper defensive technique and footwork early enough this August.

Cortez Davis is best known for two items: his size (6'3", 200 lbs) and his ball skills.  We think the staff will find a spot for Davis fairly early on because of his sheer size.  Davis runs pretty well but picks up the ball flight and does a good job attacking the football and getting it at its highest point, that is always a key to look for in a young player in the secondary. You never want a guy who looks nervous when the ball comes in the air.  Cortez will need to work on his form tackling and getting in the proper position to gain the most leverage.  It can be difficult for an athlete of his size to get into appropriate defensive back position in other areas and we expect he will spend his offseason working on core technique. If he turns out to be a good Corner, he is big enough and fast enough to match on anyone we face.

Adam Humphries is a DB/WR from Dorman.  We expect Humphries to come in and compete at the cornerback position.  The staff will push him to assure that his technique is correct.  Adam does a good job in the weight room to date, so we expect more improvement after he gets on campus.

Transfer Jerrodd Williams from Virginia Tech is also expected to compete for playing time at CB. He was a former 4-star player whose father played for Danny Ford (Jerome Williams 1985-1989) and was not offered by the Tigers at Daniel HS next-door.

2011 Outlook

Clemson loses three quality defensive backs including an All-American at safety. Needless to say, 2011 will be a transition year for the defensive backfield. Gone are Gilchrist and Maxwell's experience and gone is one of the better defensive backs in school history. The early 2009 losses forced the need to give guys like Sensabaugh and Brewer more snaps to save the season. To gain quality snaps for them, we limited the amount of playing time given to the young guys and reserves. This limited the ability of this staff to get players on the field with significant playing time in '10, which also leads to more "growing pains" in '11.  Long and short, there will be some ups and downs next season, especially after another offseason with key secondary losses.

We do not expect Clemson to be improved in the secondary in 2011. Luckily the ACC doesn't have many outstanding passing offenses. If they gain confidence and experience against weaker passing teams early, they could probably duplicate the same statistical rankings as this year's squad. The lack of a heavy hitter at SS could cause problems in run-support. Meeks will need to be ready.

Clemson does have some talent and experience returning, particularly Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks at the safety position.  Xavier Brewer and Coty Sensabaugh provide quality snaps at the corner position, with Sensabaugh being a rising senior going into ‘11.  It appears as though Carlton Lewis is the lone member of the secondary with any other serious experience and should get a look at more playing time.

The lack of PT for the lightning-fast Spencer Adams is a mystery however.

Two more young guys we will be watching in addition to the incoming freshmen are Desmond Brown and Garry Peters.

Desmond Brown spent the 2010 season as a red-shirt learning from his experienced peers. Brown spent fall 2010 sharpening his fundamentals. One of the main fundamental items needing improvement is his ability to gain depth via backpedaling, which is critical for a defensive back and specifically for a safety since this position requires constant movement while keeping his head on a swivel and eyes in the backfield.  We are hoping that a year observing DeAndre McDaniel has taught Brown to play aggressively and emphasized the need for physical play in the secondary. 

Garry Peters had a slightly rocky road getting into Clemson. Last February we predicted that Peters had the possibility of coming in using his natural ability to get on the field early. Peters, however, had a couple hiccups getting to Clemson and was not on campus until the first week of fall camp, putting him behind the steep college football learning curve, and essentially forcing him into a red-shirt.  We expect Peters to get quality reps in the Spring and Fall as the staff tries to replace a couple of quality corners.

Below is how we foresee the defensive backfield shaping up into spring practice and on into fall drills.  Keep in mind that none of the incoming defensive backs have enrolled early and, thus, are at a definite disadvantage to the veterans because of the adjustment from high school to college ball.

We do believe that Robinson will take a spot in the starting rotation by the end of the 2011 season. Early word is that Breeland has been impressive in man coverage, and could surprise us.

2011 Pre-Spring Projected Depth Chart

Corner

Free Safety

Strong Safety

Corner

Xavier Brewer

Rashard Hall

Jonathan Meeks

Coty Sensabaugh

Garry Peters

Spencer Adams

Carlton Lewis

Darius Robinson

Bashaud Breeland

*Cortez Davis

Desmond Brown

Martin Jenkins

*Adam Humphries

*Robert Smith

*Assumes no red-shirt

Overall

We have been highly satisfied with Harbison's performance at Clemson to date and think that he is all-around a very good coach and a productive member of this staff.  We would like to see Harbison in more homes and would like to see the staff's overall attitude adjusted towards physicality in practice.  Otherwise, the defensive backs are technically coached well in the defensive backfield.  As always, more film study and better communication amongst our guys is needed but the defensive backfield has performed more than adequate under Coach Harbison.

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