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Clemson Spring Position Primer: Cornerbacks

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into last season, Clemson faced questions in regards to its depth at corner with the loss of Mackensie Alexander, who was phenomenal during his time as a boundary corner. Fortunately, Cordrea Tankersley opted to return for his final season to become the feature guy in the secondary. While a leader needs to step up at the boundary corner with Tankersley’s departure, there is no questioning the much-improved depth at the position.

As it stands, Clemson ‘s returning corners include seniors Marcus Edmond and Ryan Carter, junior Mark Fields, and sophomores Trayvon Mullen and K’Von Wallace. Unlike last season, when much of this group was untested, the Tigers have a much better idea of what these guys can do, as all of them logged plenty of experience last season.

Mullen has the most upside out of this group, and the former five-star should slide right into one of the boundary spots and become “The Guy” as Clemson’s next lockdown corner. A former five-star corner who signed with the Tigers over Florida State, Mullen received valuable playing time as a true freshmen, logging over 100 snaps in a reserve role through 13 games. He also logged eight total tackles and a pass breakup in the Orange & White Spring Game, and looks prepared to potentially become the Tigers’ most used corner. Long and athletic at 6’2, Mullen should provide an athletic boost to an already physical secondary.

Meanwhile, Fields looks to take that next step and is probably the one slated to start . Coaches raved about the rising junior’s physical ability last season, but he often made more mental mistakes than anything else. A former highly touted recruit who de-committed from the South Carolina Gamecocks, Fields showed signs of a capable starter last season, finished with 13 tackles, three pass breakups and an interception against Boston College, which was returned for a touchdown. He logged the third most snaps of any corner last season and came along as the season progressed while showcasing his potential as a cover corner. Come the first part of the regular season, Fields is the favorite to win a starting job as a boundary corner alongside Mullen.

Depth is perhaps the Carter has played the boundary quite a bit over recent years. However, given his 5’9 frame, Carter tends to struggle more against bigger, physical receivers and fits better as a slot corner. Fortunately, his questions in pass coverage are made up for by the fact that he is one of the Tigers’ more willing guys to make the tackle, especially when it comes to taking on receivers in screens and run support. He has great trust with the coaching staff, as he logged over 500 snaps, good enough for second-most among corners last season behind Tankersley.

One of the biggest differences between last year and this upcoming year are the known quantities and proven depth Clemson now knows it has at corner. Out of every corner, none was a bigger surprise than Edmond, who spent his first two playing seasons buried on the depth chart patiently waiting for his opportunity. In 2016, he logged over 300 snaps while earning three starts, with his biggest shining moments coming against Louisville when he stopped Brian Quick a yard short of the first-down marker in the redzone and came up with a timely interception to seal an ugly overtime victory against NC State. While he dealt with nagging injuries later in the season, Edmond proved his worth as a rotational corner and should provide valuable depth in 2016 along the boundary.

A darkhorse name to watch for in 2017 will be sophomore K’Von Wallace. In addition to logging over 100 snaps, the Virginia native saw time in every contest last season and even recorded an interception against NC State. Seeing most of his time in passing situations as a nickel corner, Wallace could become an impact contributor at the boundary spot, where he has been practicing for much of the spring. Wallace is an interesting case due to his hybrid ability to play nickel or safety and provides the defense with invaluable versatility.

In addition to those four main guys, two other developmental corners in Amir Trapp and Brian Dawkins, Jr., are in the wings. Son of former Clemson greats in James Trapp and Brian Dawkins, respectively, both are a bit undersized at 5’9 and 5’8. While either of these legacy signings are unlikely to see the field much in 2017, you never know what could happen in the future. After all, Clemson seems to have a penchant for developing players who weren’t highly sought after commodities, so it’s never safe to count guys out anymore.

Overall, the cornerback position is one that has plenty of depth and experience heading into 2017. Guys like Mullen and Fields could give Clemson the “Alexander-Tankersley” duo it had back in 2015, while Edmonds, Carter, and Wallace provide valuable depth. Besides the defensive line, cornerback is the deepest position the Tigers will have entering the season and be perhaps the most athletic it’s ever been in the Venables era.