2011 Position Analysis: Defensive Line with Marion Hobby and Dan Brooks

Marion Hobby was brought on the staff back in January when Chris Rumph decided to leave for the DE position at Alabama, giving the 2011 national champions their third former Clemson assistant on the staff. Hobby was a former DL/DE coach at Clemson until the New Orleans Saints made him an offer after the 19-10 defeat of Colorado in the Tangerine Bowl following the 2005 season. In that year we did notice some improved technique from the Ends and wanted to keep Hobby, but the Saints made too good of an offer. In his 2 years with the Saints he coached DE Will Smith to the Pro Bowl, and in one of those years they made the appearance in the NFC Title game. The Saints went 10-6 and 7-9 in those seasons under Sean Payton, improving from 3-13 in Jim Haslett's final year. He left there and went to Duke under his friend David Cutcliffe as DL coach and Co-DC.

Dan Brooks was another home run hire for Swinney after David Blackwell left for South Florida. He had not been retained on the staff by Lane Kiffin and was in an administrative facilities management role for Tennessee when Steele and Dabo called him up and offered him a job on the field coaching again. His track record includes coaching stops at Florida under Pell and Galen Hall, UNC under Mack Brown, and then Fulmer at UT. At all these places he built up a strong record of recruiting prowess and many times his DL led the ACC/SEC in sacks.

How we will evaluate Hobby/Brooks

  • Recruiting
  • Gap discipline/overpursuit
  • Line technique: pad level, hand usage, etc.
  • Tackling

Well for Brooks, not much needs to be said here. He chiefly recruits much of Western NC and from Anson County over to the Outer Banks, parts of Tennessee, and lower SC for Clemson. These are territories he long recruited at Univ. of Tennessee. We would prefer if his NC territory were extended over to Charlotte, if Harbison's isn't.

When he came on staff in April 2009 he brought in Justin Parker, Tra Thomas, and Sam Cooper. Last cycle, Dan Brooks closed up on Stephone Anthony with Coach Steele and brought in top TE Eric MacLain. Brooks also brought in Joe Gore and Robert Smith with Stanton Seckinger. Seckinger was a late offer directly from Coach Swinney. Coach Brooks offered Jerome Maybank, though he is a Pearman recruit officially.

This year, Dan Brooks got the DTs we needed in Carlos Watkins and D.J. Reader, along with Center Jay Guillermo from Tennessee. While he's officially credited with re-signee Kevin Dodd in this cycle, we point out that it was Andre Powell who originally offered Dodd and secured his commitment last cycle. Brooks' biggest miss in the class was the biggest need, elite DE Jonathan Bullard, who we really lost during the official visit.

Marion Hobby has never been thought of as a prime recruiter. He's more of a technique coach, and we expected a slight dropoff from Rumph here. He was given a chunk of Rumph's territory in the lower midlands along with some of the area Powell used to recruit in eastern NC, along with the usual presence in Georgia. He wasn't on staff long enough to build a ton of relationships for this cycle but did land Martin Aiken and Ronald Geohaghan in his limited time. Hobby was given Todd Gurley but Clemson decided to back off all the RBs once we pulled in Zac Brooks, and going back on them late rarely works out.

Defensive End

2012 Clemson Defensive End Depth Chart
Strongside Weakside
Malliciah Goodman Corey Crawford
Kevin Dodd - ? Vic Beasley
Roderick Byers - ? Lawson/Aiken**?

2011 Clemson DE Stats
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks
Andre Branch 755 85 17 10.5
Malliciah Goodman 767 59 4 2
Corey Crawford 252 29 2 0
Kourtnei Brown 253 25 4 2
Vic Beasley 16 2 0 0

Above I have listed a preliminary depth chart at End next season, but there will be flux at the backup positions. Several we have on the roster could move inside or tackles could move out to strongside end, which is likely with a new DC’s perspective on players. For now I feel very safe in putting Malliciah Goodman back at SDE, assuming he can get his weight down, and Corey Crawford at the weakside spot. Backing up Goodman would be Dodd and/or Roderick Byers, both freshmen. Tavaris Barnes could again work out at SDE if his weight isn’t where it should be for DT. On the weakside, Vic Beasley should have his chance to play with the 2’s if his weight is up. I think one of the two incoming talented ends will make the rotation, and the other should take a redshirt.

Andre Branch has an attitude and a swagger that we wished was more prevalent on our defense. He's a guy that reminds us of the players who played for us in the '80s in that sense. However, I did not subscribe to Mel Kiper’s appraisal of him as 1st round material. I think he’s a 2nd round pick. His sack totals went up to where I hoped they would get, but what I did not see, is better technique with his hand usage and more consistent play at a high level, especially in the run game. Andre still has a habit of trying to out-athlete his opponent by speed rushing off the edge, and while I would not say he takes a lot of plays off, I just don’t think he’s consistent enough to be drafted higher. Some of it may be due to fatigue as he has a very high snap count (compare below). I think he’d end up as a better JACK LB in a 3-4 system in the NFL than an end.

I still think Malliciah Goodman could be a good player, but while he’s usually in his gap, he just does not make plays. Note the relative lack of TFL/Sack production for a whopping 767 snaps. I think as a freshman he was in good enough shape to play, but since then he has appeared to be out of shape and lost more than one step in his outright speed. His production shows it too. Being overweight might be tolerable at DT as a two-gap player who absorbs blockers on every snap, but he’s not fighting back those single blocks and getting free to make a tackle. I do believe he’s become a more disciplined player on the field with his eyes and reactions, but unless he becomes more disciplined in the cafeteria he will not be playing on Sunday.

Kourtnei Brown has the build and speed to be a good end, but he never developed as an overrated 4-star recruit. Brown was one rated so highly on just a few observations by guys like Farrell for his potential, because he does have some raw skills. Brown should’ve been redshirted as a true freshman (played 286 snaps, the highest of his career) and took his RS in 2009 due to being buried on the depth chart. His fundamentals were not good this year (but they did improve) and he’s nonexistent on the pass rush despite pretty good footspeed. What I said last year could be regurgitated for the most part here:

What we don't see, however, is much technique or gap discipline. Kourtnei overpursues plays and leaves his assigned gap instead of letting plays come to him. He doesnt use his eyes. Block down step down is almost nonexistent at times. Pass rush technique, even on the speed rush that should be his forte, is not good. I think highly of Coach Hobby but I don't believe Brown will acheive his potential at End.

As I'm sure you noticed above, Vic Beasley barely got on the field in 2011. The staff felt like he wasn't a fit on offense at TE and shuffled him over to Bandit/WLB last year, where he was not ready as a full time DE. Since Steele never took out Willard at WILL, Vic never got reps there either. Beasley could either become another Kourtnei Brown and never capitalize on his athleticism, or he could become a good backup for Corey this fall. With so little visibility, its hard to take a very optimistic view. If his weight can get to 250-260, I think he'll get a couple hundred snaps at least, but he'd better be ready to work because these freshmen will take his spot if he doesn't.

Coming in we have two good recruits in Shaq Lawson and Martin Aiken. Both have a lot of upside. One of them should play to get a 5-man rotation going, and the other should redshirt. As we've said in the past, if you cannot give a freshman 150 snaps or so, then you've wasted his year. Kevin Dodd was recruited more as a SDE-3DT type, and with a much-needed year at Hargrave he should be able to become a soild backup this fall. Rod Byers is another who would probably fit best at 3DT eventually, but we have not heard much on his development as a redshirt this fall.

For comparison sake, here are the stats from 2009/2010:

2009 Clemson DE Stats
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks
Ricky Sapp 656 60 15 5
Da'Quan Bowers 475 58 11 3
Andre Branch 337 46 8 2
Malliciah Goodman 329 31 5 2

(Recall Bowers missed a few games due to the knee injury in 09)

2010 Clemson DE Stats
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks
Da'Quan Bowers 633 67 25 15.5
Andre Branch 600 49 5.5 4
Malliciah Goodman 329 31 3 1
Kourtnei Brown 201 16 2 0
Chris Richardson 49 1 0 0

Defensive Tackle

Prospective 2012 Defensive Tackle Depth
Nose 3-technique
Deshawn Williams Tavaris Barnes/Kevin Dodd*
Grady Jarrett/Tyler Shatley* Carlos Watkins
Jerome Maybank/Tra Thomas Josh Watson
D.J. Reader ** Josh Brown**

*- assuming he plays DT

**-assuming no RS

Not much needs to be said about Brandon Thompson. If anything, his aggression takes him out of almost as many plays than it makes for him, but I’d take him every day of the week. When his motor is on full, he’s unblockable. Several teams attacked his aggression with midline reads and traps, and those were really the only bad games I thought he had up front. At times he was seen to overpursue, and sometimes he's so good at jumping through the A-gap that he simply outruns the play: the RB is already past him and Brandon doesn't get a hand on him. God knows our Linebackers arent going to make the tackle after that.

As a Nose Tackle, he's not really intended to make the tackles and sacks, but he did anyway. The 3-technique tackle generally makes more sacks than the Nose. Its the Nose's job to require 2 blockers and control his gap while pressing the center of the pocket, forcing the QB into the arms of the DE. In the UNDER front we play(below), the shade nose guard plays off the shoulder of the Center and aligns in the strongside A-gap, sometimes slanted towards the Center. The reason for this is that he will end up controlling both A-gaps if he can knock the Center backwards or squeeze him against the Guard to the other side. This causes most teams to double-team the NT, because the Center is usually the weakest blocker.

Under front in a 4-3 alignment vs. pro personnel group.

2011 DT Stats
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks
Brandon Thompson 722 77 8 2.5
Rennie Moore 723 58 10 4
Tyler Shatley 317 30 0 0
DeShawn Williams 138 20 2 0
Tavaris Barnes 73 7 0 0
Grady Jarrett 61 2 0 0
Tra Thomas 8 1 0 0
Josh Watson 21 0 0 0

Rennie Moore’s motor doesn’t run as well as Thompsons’ and so he’s almost invisible on the field for long stretches of the game. Moore has the better pass rush skills of the two and I expected him to get several sacks this year as a result, but even though 4-6 is a good number for a DT, they seemed very sparse to us. Notice that his production did not increase relative to snap count. We were already worried about his gap control up front as a slightly-undersized DT coming into this year, and it was on display most of the year. Teams did not respect Clemson’s interior defense and ran all over us; poor play at the 3-technique is a big cause of that. Everyone wants to blame the LBs, but each player has 1-gap in a 7-man front, and Rennie did not control his.

Tyler Shatley is strong, but I hate his footwork. They look like boat anchors when I watch him play. He really was no match for some of his quicker opponents up front this year. I don't think he maintains his 2nd string position here going further, and that may be why he moves over to OG some in Spring. I'd figure 250 snaps or thereabouts for Shatley in 2012 if he remains at NG.

Notice the lack of snaps from all the backups this year compared to previous below. Some of our problems up front this year are due to the substitution patterns we had: 700 snaps is a lot for a 270-300lb man who has to run on each snap. I think Williams got just enough snaps to be useful for next year, but the staff should've redshirted Grady Jarrett. Williams will be a good player, we liked everything we saw of him in his limited action. Jarrett is a player I was high on in recruiting but he did need to reshape his body and still has a way to go there. So does Jerome Maybank. I fear it will take more than a year for both of these guys to be All-ACC caliber NGs here though.

Tavaris Barnes was a highly sought-after recruit we stole from FSU, but his problem is that he just can't put the good weight on to play at the 3. Its the same issue Rennie had for his full 4 years. A training table will be beneficial to him greatly, but I don't know if he'll gain enough good weight to become a force inside. This year we needed the extra gap control of a big DT at the 3 and didn't get it.

Tra Thomas has attitude problems, that is why he was passed by two true freshmen on the depth chart. Josh Watson lost a year to a back injury and became a mammoth last summer, but appears to be a complete miss in evaluation. I don't think either player should remain here for the full 4.

The staff garnered commitments from Carlos Watkins and NG D.J. Reader during the cycle to bolster the talent need up front. Watkins is probably a 3-technique initially, and I do not see how he redshirts, but also don't think he pulls 300 snaps in 2012. Carlos played all over the field at Chase and needs the year of focused DL coaching. Reader is an athletic 300-pounder who should not avoid a RS because of the numbers ahead of him. I do think he'd rate just as well as an OG, so I won't be surprised when one of the several others we have at DT pushes him down the chart and he ends up at Guard. Josh Brown is a big 3-technique that needs more coaching and should RS.

2010 DT Stats
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks
Jarvis Jenkins 495 51 9 1
Brandon Thompson 489 53 7.5 1
Miguel Chavis 218 27 1 0
Rennie Moore 289 25 6 2
Tyler Shatley 120 11 1.5 1

2009 DT Stats
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks
Jarvis Jenkins 536 69 11 1
Brandon Thompson 523 50 2 0
Jamie Cumbie 364 53 4.5 2.5
Miguel Chavis 315 28 1.5 1.5
Rennie Moore 198 22 5.5 2.5

Technique Perspective

When coaches look at hand usage, it often comes down to being able to "shoot your hands". Shooting the hands means that you want to stay low and make contact with the OLineman with your arms fully extended. The idea is to create separation between yourself in the the blocker, because if you don't, he can pull you in to him and control you. Usually the sled is the way a coach instructs this technique. In many games last year where we failed to get sufficient pass rush, hand usage was a primary factor. Where they shoot the hands (inside or outside numbers normally) depends on their alignment, but its also essential to keep the back straight and pads lower than the opponent. That helps you control your assigned gap, and that is what makes a good run defense. We've written several posts on pass-rush techniques and handling blocks and tackling that covers this in more detail. Our defensive linemen, since we run an attacking 4-3, are not charged with eating blockers just to keep the LBs free. They are charged with holding their gap and pressing the pocket inside. The Ends are meant to get the majority of sacks and control the edge of the defense to prevent those outside stretch plays, sweeps, or other off-tackle runs from getting around. While I felt that we had a few good games in edge control, this was horrid overall, and that falls chiefly on the DEs.

When it comes to containment on the edge, the DE has to learn to keep his outside shoulder and leg free when the blocker tries to hook him. When he doesn't do that, he gets knocked out of his gap, or doesn't read his key properly, and you have bad gap control. There are several drills to teach this; it is fundamental DE/OLB instruction. The idea is to teach him to keep one side of his body free and concentrate only on one blocker at a time, and to use his hands to attack cuts. That will help him spill the ballcarrier to one side and hopefully to a LB/DB in support. When have you seen a Clemson player at any defensive position handle a cut block properly lately?

Frankly I haven't been pleased with the level of fundamentals up front this year. Dropping into the bottom half of D-1 rushing defense is proof enough, and you can see its not because we're too young up front. The youngsters barely got to play, and the defense was worse in the 2nd quarter than in the 4th, where the fatigue really sets in for a defense. Our fundamentals were just shit, and there is no nice way to put it and still tell the truth. Our coaches simply did not develop the young players well enough and/or get them in, so we'll pay for it again in 2012.

While several guys had great games and stood out at times, the overall level of hand usage, pad level, footwork and tackling fundamentals were not good for this defensive line.

The Verdict

Dan Brooks may be the best combination of coach + recruiter on staff. Despite the bad year for the defense, we still believe that. He can develop his talent and has done so everywhere he's been. However, he didn’t do as well this year as in previous years. The development of the backups appears lacking and the snap count shows that either the staff had no confidence in them playing, or simply didn’t want to substitute as much as they should’ve against lesser opponents. Both BT and Moore played 150-200 snaps more than they really should've.

We don't want to be hard on an assistant after just one season on the staff, so I won't be as hard on Hobby this year. I know from his previous stint that he's a good coach for technique issues. I think, as for Brooks, that he let Goodman and Branch play too many snaps overall. That high snap count may or may not contribue to Branch's consistency. Also, I won't hold him responsible for Goodman's weight gains. He will be the one that gets the credit or blame if Beasley, Crawford, and some of these other youngsters do not improve over the next few years.

We looked at the overall participation numbers prior to the Orange Bowl. Unfortunately, we lose approximately 60% of our defensive line snaps through graduation. Loss of experience up front is a big concern going into ’12, particularly at the defensive tackle position. Clemson does return Goodman and Crawford at the end position, with Goodman being on the field for a ridiculous amount of time in ’11 and Crawford logging well over 200 snaps as a true freshman. There are definite substitution issues with the ’11 squad—either the players just weren’t ready to play or coaches were reluctant to substitute. Clemson absolutely has to build more depth and, in turn, shuffle players on and off the field more if we are to be successful up front on the defensive side.

Fatigue generated by having only a handful of players who play is taxing on a line especially when our Tigers played 14 games last season. Specifically, we have to replace a nose and 3-tech with question marks. These question marks are amplified if the guys have to go all game every game. Immediate depth building to backfill attrition and substitution patterns may very well dictate the success of Clemson’s defense this coming year and beyond. We’ll look to address Brooks’ and Hobby’s performance (as well as the defense as a whole) by our success rate getting greener folks quality snaps and production moving forward. Clemson surely has some work to do to replace Moore/Thompson while developing a solid rotation.

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