While there is a lot of turnover on Brent Venables’ defense from last season, the Tigers have veterans returning at both safety positions. Senior K’Von Wallace and Grad student Tanner Muse remain the starters, and others that saw significant snaps last season return to provide depth.
Tanner Muse, FS, GR, 6-2, 230 lbs
Muse returns as one of the more vocal leaders of the defense. He brings intensity and hard hitting to the unit, and has a thing for scoring 60+ yard touchdowns against Syracuse. Muse is a good safety in coverage, but what may be his best attribute is his ability to come up and make plays against the run. Venables also will send Muse on a blitz or use him as a spy. His size allows him to play in sort of a linebacker role in some packages, while he’s also long and athletic enough to be effective in coverage.
K’Von Wallace, SS, Sr, 5-11, 205 LBS
Clemson’s other veteran safety starter is K’Von Wallace. Wallace comes off an honorable mention All ACC season. K’Von is great in coverage and has a high motor. The thing that Clemson fans would most like to see is his hands improving this year. Going back to the Texas A&M game, Wallace had a shot at a couple of late game interceptions that could’ve been game-changers, and but dropped both of them before finally picking off Kellen Mond on the A&M’s two point conversion attempt that would’ve tied the game - his only INT of the year. That critique aside, Wallace should come in as one of the ACC’s top safeties and will be a major factor in Clemson’s run to repeat.
Nolan Turner, RS Jr, 6-1, 195
I don’t know if there’s a player on the current roster that has been such a pleasant surprise as Nolan Turner. Turner was an overlooked DB out of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and chose a scholarship to Clemson over UAB. He redshirted in 2016 and played sparingly in 2017, but in 2018 he proved to be a capable backup, and will probably be an heir apparent to start in 2020. It’s pretty remarkable to see a former two-star recruit have his first career interception be in the semi-finals against Notre Dame, and then register five tackles against Alabama en route to a national championship. Guys like Turner typically remind us of two things: recruiting stars aren’t foolproof and Clemson’s player development is outstanding.
Denzel Johnson, RS Sr, 6-0, 205
Johnson is another reserve safety with some veteran experience that will provide depth for the Tigers. Denzel was also a bit of an overlooked recruit. A three-star safety out of AC Flora in Columbia, he chose Clemson over NC State, Louisville, UMass, and Towson. Per The State, a 2014 high school playoff game against Daniel High may have played a huge part in Denzel becoming a Tiger. Johnson had a good performance against the Lions with Dabo and Venables in attendance. Johnson put up a career high seven tackles against Louisville last season (let’s be honest, almost everyone had career highs against Louisville) and had five tackles and a pass break up against South Carolina.
The class of 2019 brought in three safeties: Joseph Charleston, Jalyn Phillips, and Lannden Zanders. Charleston is a four star out of Milton High School in Alpharetta, GA. Charleston had a slew of offers and committed to Clemson over Alabama, Georgia , Florida, and FSU.
Fellow Georgian Jalyn Phillips is a three star who committed to Clemson over Alabama, Oklahoma, Arizona, and App State, amongst others.
Lannden Zanders is a three star who garnered offers from such schools as Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and NC State. The Shelby, NC product may give Trevor Lawrence competition for best hair on the team.
That’s a pretty nice mane right there. It’ll be interesting to monitor through fall camp who amongst these three avoids a redshirt.
Clemson’s secondary was often criticized last year as the weakest link on defense, but with so much experience returning, it has a chance to take a major step forward.