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2014 Football Season Position Review: Defensive Backs

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Today we take a look at the forgotten members of the Clemson defense; the defensive backs. Lost in all the hype about the front seven and the defensive line in particular, is the outstanding job done by these guys this season. We will also take a look at one of the most underrated coaches on our staff, Mike Reed.

Tyler Smith/Getty Images

First we'll take a look at the cornerbacks:

CB
#2 Mackensie Alexander
#14 Martin Jenkins
#21 Adrian Baker
#25 Cordrea Tankersly
#26 Garry Peters
#29 Marcus Edmond
#31 Ryan Carter
#37 Cameron Scott
#38 Kevin Williamson

The one thing we knew coming into this year in regards to the defensive backs was that we were very young and somewhat inexperienced. This was looked at as potentially the one weak spot of the defense this year. This was particularly true of the cornerback position. Of the seven guys on scholarship, four were redshirt freshmen and one was a true sophomore. Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins were the only two upperclassmen and Jenkins struggled with injuries for most of the year.

For the most part, the talented and heralded Mackensie Alexander and 5th year veteran Garry Peters started in this group. They were backed up primarily by Cordrea Tankersly. Jenkins and Adrian Baker played sparingly, both playing in four games a piece. Marcus Edmond also only played in four games.

It can't be understated what a great job Alexander did as a redshirt freshman, even being named a First-Team Freshman All-American. His stats weren't exactly gaudy, but when you factor in his youth and the amount he started, you see he did a very admirable job. Most of what he did doesn't show up in the stats. He was our closest thing to a lockdown corner in a long time and made it difficult for a lot of our opponent's wide receivers to get any breathing room. He finished with 21 total tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 6 pass breakups and a fumble recovery.

Peters on the other hand was a different animal. He finally lived up to some of the hype surrounding him when he first committed. Peters was all over the field and seemed to come up with the biggest plays when we needed them the most. The sack and forced fumble on a cornerback blitz against Louisville come to mind. We were really struggling after losing Deshaun Watson at quarterback and the defense needed to stand up big to help us come away with a win against the Cardinals. His forced fumble led directly to a touchdown and was the difference between winning and losing that game.

A First-Team All-ACC selection, he would finish the year with over 50 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a team high 12 pass breakups.

As far as the backups go, they performed pretty admirably. We got pretty much what we expected from Ryan Carter. He played in 12 games, mostly on special teams and only totaled 3 tackles the entire year. I would like to have seen a guy like Baker get more snaps and experience but what can you do when your defense was the only thing winning games for you during a large stretch in the middle of the season?

Martin Jenkins has had a rough ride. He has been nagged by injuries since coming to Clemson. He's suffered everything from a dislocated shoulder to a broken thumb. He even lost a tooth against Syracuse last year. This year he was hampered by an ankle/foot injury that caused him to miss several games. He did have a nice sack against FSU after being out against SC State the previous week. He would finish with 5 tackles, a couple of tackles for a loss and that sack. Although it was through no fault of his own, his senior campaign was ultimately a disappointment.

Next the safeties:

S
#11 Travis Blanks
#12 Korrin Wiggins
#15 T.J. Green
#17 Jefferie Gibson
#18 Jadar Johnson
#20 Jayron Kearse
#27 Robert Smith
#30 Taylor Watson
#49 Beau Brown

Travis Blanks would likely have started this year, either at one of the safety spots or at the nickleback position which I think he plays best at. We were looking for him to improve on a somewhat disappointing sophomore effort. However due to a knee injury he suffered in the preseason, he was forced to redshirt this year, leaving us a little thin at the position. Once again we were very young here. Of six guys on scholarship, 4 were sophomores and one was an upperclassman. Robert Smith was our only senior leader in this group.

Jadar Johnson and Jayron Kearse alternated at the free safety position with the latter getting most of the snaps. Kearse did a tremendous job filling in for the injured Blanks racking up 60 tackles, 5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 2 picks, 5 PBUs and a fumble recovery. Johnson also played well in relief with 12 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 PBU and 2 picks. His pick 6 against SC State was the secondary's lone defensive score of the year.

On the strong safety side was Robert Smith and T.J. Green. Smith led the secondary with 80 tackles. He also had 2.5 TFLs, 2 INTs, 1 PBU and 2 fumble recoveries in a solid senior campaign. His 2nd pick against Syracuse was a thing of beauty and crucial in a tight ballgame.

T.J. had a surprisingly decent year for being so unheralded. He chipped in with 18 tackles and an interception in the blowout against Oklahoma in the Tangerine Bowl. Korrin Wiggins primarily started at the nickleback position and ended the year with 40 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 PBU and 2 INTs including a nice 37 yard interception return against Georgia State. Jefferie Green took a redshirt on the year.

Finally, to get the full scope, we have to take a look at the coach of the secondary. As we all know, Clemson got Mike Reed from NC State in 2013 along with his nice NFL pedigree. As always you have to look at what kind of recruiter he is when evaluating a position coach. Reed is listed as the primary recruiter for Kaleb Chalmers, Sterling Johnson, Amir Trapp and Gage Cervenka. This list is not particularly impressive. His name is also attached to our last two targets, Kareem Orr and former South Carolina commit Mark Fields. If Reed can pull in Fields, then I will have to give him a passing grade here. Either way he's not as bad as Danny Pearman.

The verdict on his coaching job and the defensive backs overall? Some of the success here has to be attributed to our dominant defensive line. They really made things easy by limiting the amount of passes attempted and affecting the quarterback's decision making. Mike Reed is also clearly excellent at developing players. To have the kind of production we had this year with the youth is pretty impressive.

We've started to notice the secondary get better and better in the years that he's coached here. In his second full year at Clemson, we had the #1 rated Passing Efficiency Defense in the land. In fact, we've steadily improved in this area since he's been here. With "Coach Cheese" at the helm we were ranked 62nd in this category in 2012. We rose to #19 in 2013 and finally broke through this season. Don't get me wrong, I believe Charlie Harbison was a fine defensive backs coach. There was word though that he had some major disagreements with Brent Venables. It appears now that Venables has his man.