2013 Position Analysis: Defensive Line with Marion Hobby and Dan Brooks

Streeter Lecka

Marion Hobby was brought on the staff back in January 2012 when Chris Rumph decided to leave for the DE position at Alabama, who has now moved on to Texas. 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 a 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 evaluate Hobby/Brooks:

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

Well for Brooks, not much needs to be said. He's one of the best recruiters of defensive talent in the Southeast. He chiefly recruits much of Western NC and from Anson County over to the Outer Banks, parts of Tennessee, and lower state SC for Clemson. These are territories he recruited forever at Univ. of Tennessee. We would prefer if his NC territory were extended over to Charlotte, to take Pearman the hell out of there. Dan Brooks would own Charlotte if we put him in it. I also question why your best combination of coach + recruiter doesn't spend a little more time in Georgia, but the whole staff does participate in counties surrounding Atlanta.

In the 2014 cycle, Coach Brooks is only officially credited with safety Jefferie Gibson and DT Jabril Robinson. We did point out in our class needs post that once again, we failed to net the War Daddy defensive tackle or end, so this is something that will catch up to us when our whole DL graduates or leaves early within the next 2 seasons. Clemson did not pursue Dexter Wideman (grades) or Poona Ford heavily, and a year after having Mont Adams bought off at the last second, we needed to land one big one here and didn't get it done.

Marion Hobby has always been thought of as more of a technique-driven coach and not an ace recruiter. Hobby recruits Alabama, Mississippi, parts of Georgia around Atlanta, with Rumph's territory around Bamberg and Orangeburg. In the 2014 cycle Hobby only got OT Taylor Hearn. He did nab some good talent in 2013 and in 2012 with limited time on staff.

We have failed to bring in an elite pass rushing talent for 3-4 years now and it's getting old. The string of Bullard, Lawson/Nkemdiche, and now Featherston/Williams is alarming. We did not recruit a true defensive end in this class, but did get two bigger linebackers who will probably move up to End before their career is done.

If we didn't have these two guys who can coach their spots on the DL, we'd be in a world of trouble. When Brooks eventually retires, I really worry about replacing him.

Defensive End

2014 Prospective Depth Chart
Strongside Weakside
Corey Crawford Vic Beasley
Tavaris Barnes Shaq Lawson
Kevin Dodd/Dane Rogers Martin Aiken/Ebo Ogundeko

Barnes is a SDE capable of playing both sides of the line, but Lawson's abilities can't be ignored, and I think they'll find ways to get the foursome on the field as much as possible. As Lawson bulks up he's going to play SDE entirely. Ebo is a definite WDE, and I expect him to push Barnes for the 4th spot in the rotation.

2013 Clemson DE Stats
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks Notes
Corey Crawford 569 52 10.5 3 16 Pressures, 4 PBUs, 1 INT
Vic Beasley 560 44 23 13 6 PBUs, 4 FFs
Shaq Lawson 337 35 10 4
Tavaris Barnes 292 14 2 1
Martin Aiken 60 8 0.5 0
Kevin Dodd 40 7 0.5 0

We do expect Chris Register and/or Richard Yeargin III to eventually play WDE, but they should redshirt as there is no need at these spots with everyone returning. Kevin Dodd was injured earlier in the year and is eligible for medical RS.

Tavaris Barnes really started to stand out compared to Malliciah Goodman at the midseason point of 2012, and we asked for him to get more PT and he produced. This year, while his snap count went up by ~ 50, his production dropped by 10 tackles. I can't recall many plays he made in 2013. He originally projected as a 3-technique, but hasn't been able to put the weight on to play that spot, and was moved back to DE. He's not fast off the edge as a pass rusher and doesn't have a good pass rush move. In a perfect world he's more like a 4i technique 3-4 DE. He's good in the run game as an anchor and can spell both Beasley and Crawford at this point in his career. He'd start for most of the ACC. Barnes is a guy failed by our own S&C program. We expected much more of him when he signed with Clemson, and wouldn't be surprised if his snap count drops a bit to get younger guys on the field this year for experience.

Last year at this time we were tough on Corey Crawford. He was not ready for full-time duty at WDE, where you have to have a pass rusher. 1 sack in 575 snaps was not going to cut it there, and we expected him to move to Strongside if someone could step up full-time on the weakside. Corey moved, and his play improved a great deal. He's still not a good pass rusher, and doesn't have a great move, but he does snatch blocks well and his gap discipline is much better. He has good closing speed and finishes considerably better than 2012. About all we can ask more from him is that he continues to work on his pass rush move.

When I first saw Vic Beasley play WDE in the spring game a couple years ago I was really excited about his potential. He's electric off the edge, and from Auburn 2012 to the end of the season his pass rush move improved to the point that he was tough to block even when he wasn't trying to speed rush. Now he realizes that he doesn't have to do that, as it causes him to leave his rush lane and opens up a big hole for a scrambling QB. He keeps that B-gap squeezed while still getting excellent pressure, and overall his gap discipline is great. He's almost always where he needs to be, and usually gets the ball carrier when he comes that way. Vic's shortcomings rarely get exposed, but he was swallowed up by FSU on the edges in that contest because of good scheme (they made sure to get a double on him often) and his own lack of mass. Vic does still need to get into that 250-260 pound range for full-time NFL duty, and its really the only thing I see in his game to work on. I don't think Bowers looked as well-coached as Vic does now.

Shaq Lawson will slide right into one of the starting spots when Crawford/Beasley leave. He can play either at the moment, but hopefully Joey doesn't put so much weight on him that he has to slide inside. He's a big-time player who snatches his blocks well, has good edge speed, and plays with a motor that you don't see often. His hand usage is good but needs polishing, and his gap discipline is also good.

Martin Aiken didn't get much time with 4 good players ahead of him, but seems undersized when I watch him. With 60 snaps of footage I couldn't make a proper evaluation of him. I don't think his gap discipline is where it should be, and he doesn't snatch blocks that well. I do think he has the strength to be a run-stopper on the weakside. I'd say he's another, slightly smaller, Barnes.

Ogundeko and Rogers come off RSs this year, and I'm more intrigued by Ebo. I thought, based on his HS film, that he could start pushing in 2014 and I'd like to see him in the Spring game. Rogers is a bigger SDE who could eventually slide to the 3-technique, like Dodd.

Defensive Tackle

Prospective 2014 DT Depth
2i 3
Grady Jarrett Josh Watson
D.J. Reader DeShawn Williams
Scott Pagano Carlos Watkins

2013 Clemson DT Stats
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks Notes
Grady Jarrett 539 83 11 2 14 QB Pressures
Josh Watson 402 47 2 1
D.J. Reader 342 43 5 3 8 QB Pressures
DeShawn Williams 359 37 1.5 0
Rod Byers 119 19 1 0
Carlos Watkins 90 11 1.5 0 Starter until the Car accident

Clemson adjusted its primary fronts to what we term a "G" front, with a 2i and 3 technique DT as opposed to the previous Under/Over (NG & 3) front. As such, the lines between the two DT positions are blurred and you can usually play both, which we do with all of them that played heavily this year, as you can basically flip a coin with all of them.

Carlos Watkins pulled 90 snaps in the first 3 games until a bad car accident where he lost a close friend and sustained some lower leg injuries. After a few weeks it was decided to sit him and get the medical RS. With him returning we have 5 starter-quality tackles with highly-rated Scott Pagano coming off redshirt as well. Unfortunately these guys are upperclassmen, and DTs frequently jump to the NFL early because they're such a premium. We should enjoy them while we have them.

Grady Jarrett was voted co-MVP for the defense in 2013 with an astounding 83 tackles. He's listed at 6'1 but he's closer to 5'10 which, along with his higher body fat, is why he was rated low by the services. Anyone who saw his HS film and didn't know his height would've rated him a 4-star player, which is where I thought he should have been rated. Grady Jarrett is all motor, and you can't move him. He destroyed interior blockers in almost every game we played. He completely whipped Georgia Tech's ass all day long, and was intstrumental in us shutting down the option as a result. That he was not even on the All-ACC squad shocks me, because I think he's All-America caliber. I don't see a weak point in his game.

Josh Watson nearly left the team this winter because he wanted to get on with life. Thankfully for us, he was swayed by his teammates to stay. He committed himself to football and is a markedly improved player from when he got here. Some on the staff felt he was a miss at that time. I thought last season that he could stand to get off blocks better, and I still think so, but his gap discipline greatly improved from 2012. He's not as talented as some of the other guys but he does his job, and I'll always play a guy who can do that. I think if he wanted to he could make an NFL practice squad and if he works at it could make an NFL team, but I don't see him ever being drafted.

Maybe he was just outshined by Jarrett, but I thought D.J. Reader would have more flash this season than he did. He had ~100 more snaps and only 3 more tackles overall compared to 2012. He's still Top 3 in terms of talent, is tough to move, and has good gap control, but his motor seemed to back off a bit this year and he wasn't as consistently disruptive. I think giving up baseball was the right decision and with a full offseason to focus on football I would not be surprised to see him end up with 450+ snaps.

DeShawn Williams is a solid player who can play either spot inside, and would start for most of the ACC, but he can be moved and many times on big runs I see him not where he's supposed to be. He must snatch blocks better and become more disruptive to get more PT, and he has to become an immovable object. If he can just stay in his gap more this year we'll be pleased with him, and I think you'd see his 2012 numbers (50 tackles, 5TFL, 2 sacks) duplicated.

Technique

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 O-Lineman 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 the few games of the year where we failed to get consistent pass rush, this hand usage was the 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. This group was poor at this in 2012, but in 2013 I have no complaints on our edge control.

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, makes a bad decision to pass rush into the B-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 cut blocks. That will help him spill the ballcarrier to one side and hopefully to a LB/DB in support. Vic was usually so fast that the OT couldn't reach block him, and I was actually surprised at how well he maintained outside leverage considering his aggressiveness to the QB, and Corey does a good job of staying on the outside shoulder.

Pass rush fundamentals from the DEs was pretty good. In some games, Vic Beasley showed some very nice moves to go with his elite DE speed. Corey, as mentioned above, needs to work on his move more because he doesn't have quite enough speed to beat a good tackle around the edge consistently.

But I was impressed at how the fundamentals improved this year up front, and if the LBs and secondary support can pick it up in 2014 I think the defense can be better.

The Verdict

We have thought for several years now that Brooks is the best combo of recruiting + coaching on the staff. That is a no-brainer, and he's earned every penny he makes. Hell I'd pay him twice as much to make sure he doesn't retire.

Even when Hobby was here years ago, we felt that he was a good coach. We still think so. Now he needs to continue pressing the backups to improve their game and work on their pass rushing moves and gap discipline. He may have to teach Yeargin and/or Register the position and refine them into good players. We can point to the lack of elite DE recruited over the last several years as something that must be improved. We've cranked out too many good Ends to the NFL for this to still be a problem.

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