CORNER POSITION OUTLOOK
Gone are the starters from last year Jr. Andrew Booth and Sr. Mario Goodrich. It is never great when you are breaking in two entirely new starters. That isn’t completely the case with Clemson. Sheridan Jones was a starter at various times in his career and is expected to take over a good portion of the snaps this year. In fact, the presumed starters for most of preseason camp have been Wiggins and Jones, but the latest rumblings I have heard have thrown this into doubt. Sounds like Wiggins and Jones will play a lot but the pecking order is still very much up in the air and Coach Reed is going to wait until the last minute to name starters and even then likely use the play on the field to determine things. I view this as a positive development as younger players are stepping up. Corner should be a position of relative strength despite being a bit unproven considering the amount of talent lost.
WHAT WE LOST
Andrew Booth played 509 regular season snaps last season and Goodrich had 465. As you all know, I was a Booth evangelist (even when he punched a guy!) and had him as a first round talent during his recruiting. Well—he went 42nd overall and slipped to the 2nd Rd because of health and durability questions (I still maintain he was a first round talent). Apart from the NC State game, Booth played like a lockdown corner last season and Goodrich emerged from both the injury tent and the doghouse to have a really great senior season. Booth gave you a real physical presence that set the edge and gave you serious speed when breaking on the ball. Goodrich was just solid overall.
Everyone else is back.
WHAT WE GAINED
Two premiere talents that help keep the depth and talent level above average, if not elite.
Jaedyn Lukus 6’2.5, 195
Lukus is going to surprise some people. He has the length and size that Coach Reed loves to put on that island, but is a pretty fluid athlete for someone his size. He has flashed in camp and pushed for increased playing time, despite coming off a shoulder injury that kept him out in the Spring. I see no scenario where he redshirts unless he gets injured. Could play special teams but he has spent time in the two deep in camp and I see him getting at least 150 snaps this season.
Toriano Pride 5’11, 190
Pride came into camp with a lot of buzz because he possess some of the more advanced cover skills in man to man coverage you see in a recruit. Pride was a high 4* recruit and hasn’t disappointed in camp. He is running with the third team but consistently makes plays and hauled in an interception in the final scrimmage. I don’t see Pride redshirting but he likely plays some special teams and earns more and more playing time as the season goes along.
Nate Wiggins So. 6’2, 185
Wiggins only played 130 regular season snaps (148 with the bowl), which is less than I expected going into the season. He had some maturing to do both mentally and physically—as well as culturally, but has made those strides in the offseason. Wiggins is the easy choice for a breakout player, but breakout seems a bit off the mark here since he is expected to take on the role of lockdown corner. Wiggins is still a bit skinnier than other corners like Booth and Terrell were but he plays physical and has that length to go with good speed. He will be given every opportunity to be the lockdown boundary corner—Nate the Great.
Sheridan Jones Sr. 5’11.5, 190
Jones is the elder statesman, which is just weird to type since I remember vividly his recruitment. Jones popped as a freshman onto the scene and then was a starter at times as a So. and Jr. but had some bumps along the road and lost his confidence. Jones at one point bulked up a bit too much and needed to regain his speed. But Jones has played a good bit of football and logged 352 snaps, basically double any of the other corner returners. Hopefully he can put it all together to have a productive season that tracks Goodrich’s career.
Malcolm Greene Jr. 5’10, 195
Greene is one of the players on this team I have yet to fully understand. He was an unheralded recruit who committed late to the team and then impressed the coaches so much in his freshman year that he clawed his way to starting the final game of the season and playing important minutes down the stretch. Known as a ballhawk in practice and an energizer bunny. Greene seemed poised to take the reigns of the Nickel spot but has always been used as a corner as well (where I don’t think he is as effective). His So year was plagued by some injuries and he only played 167 regular season snaps. With the emergence of Carter as a SAM/Nickel/Dime we might not see as much of Greene as one would expect. In the past, coaches haven’t been able to keep him off the field as an additional hardnosed coverage player, however.
Fred Davis Jr. 6’0, 200
Fred is still on the team and played 127 snaps last season. Davis is further away from a really, really bad traffic accident where he was recklessly speeding and almost killed a mail carrier. I always root for grace and healing and becoming a better person, but this is one of those cases where you really hope Davis understands just how big of a chance he has been granted. Davis is a decent all around player who needs to work on being more consistent. He has the talent and in his junior year it is time to make a move.
The other possibility that I have heard with the position to keep in your back pocket is the real chance that Mukuba plays more corner than we might think. The rationale here is that Phillips and Venables (or another Safety or Nickel player) holds down that spot and putting Mukuba on the field at corner gives you the best talent on the field, especially if you have Carter as the SAM. Something to tuck away, particularly if there are injuries or anyone struggles. Mukuba is just that talented.
If all goes right then Wiggins logs 500 snaps at the boundary and a combination of players step up to lock down the field corner spot. Lukus emerges as the next great boundary corner behind Wiggins. Best case scenario: Jones uses those senior snaps to establish himself as a starter and he winds up getting drafted just like Goodrich. Reed has recruited well enough that the talent is in place to absorb injury and marginal play. My only tiny worry is that the wide receivers on the team are struggling more than the team realizes and that the secondary isn’t getting challenged like it should be, resulting in some overconfidence.
With an improved pass rush (and improved offense), the secondary shouldn’t need to hold up quite as long, however, and that helps any secondary to look better.