SENECA — When we last saw the Clemson secondary, they were suffering through a terrible, horrible, no-good evening courtesy of Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense.
The Tigers’ defensive backs couldn’t cover. Couldn’t tackle. Couldn’t do much of anything right in an ugly 70-33 Orange Bowl rout that cost defensive coordinator Kevin Steele his job. Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns, four to Tavon Austin.
With the start of 2012 preseason practice just over a week away, secondary coach Charlie Harbison is ready to correct the ills exposed in Sun Life Stadium, and he’s confident he has a group that can do just that.
“You lost your last game. It is what it is. You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Harbison said last week. “ The body of work was good but we lost (the Orange Bowl). I don’t like it. I’m not going to sit here and tell you like I do.
“Bottom line, is you have to go back to work and fix your problems.”
Harbison will work with a veteran secondary. Four of the five players who finished spring atop the depth chart are either juniors or seniors. Safeties Xavier Brewer and Rashard Hall have already earned their undergraduate degrees.
Brewer and Hall are co-starters at free safety, and Hall is also bracketed with fellow senior Jonathan Meeks atop the strong safety depth chart.
Hall is recovering from knee surgery that sidelined him for spring practice; he injured the knee in the opener against Troy, sat out the following week against Wofford and played the rest of the season in a knee brace.
“We’ll see how things shake out,” Harbison said. “We’ve got some options back there, being that Brewer can do a lot like (Marcus) Gilchrist did a lot (as a versatile player) when he played there.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Hall and Meeks emerge as the starters, with Brewer – who began last season as a cornerback and finished it as a safety – in a nickelback role.
“He’ll get locked into a position, but he’s a person that could go different places,” Harbison said. “I’m not going to have him singled out. That’s we used Gilchrist in the past. He’s flexible.”
There are questions about Hall’s readiness for practice, but Harbison said his senior leader is “looking good and feeling good.”
“That’s good for me,” he said. “ I can’t get out there and watch (summer workouts), but I communicate with him and he says he’s feeling good.”
His presence, Harbison said, is steadying.
“It means a lot,” he said. “He’s played the most out of all of them, because he played as a redshirt freshman, and then Meeks and Brewer have played a lot. Those three guys, you’ve got guys who have snaps under their belt and have played in big games. (Hall) has played in two ACC championship games, so that’s big to have him in the back end.”
Harbison said he’ll know more about Hall’s status “when I see him,” but he trusts the information.
“He told me he’s doing good. I’ll make my own assessment when I see him,” Harbison said. “He’s a leader. He’s always going to be direct with me. I feel good when he tells me something.”
Does he expect the knee to limit his mobility? Not really.
“He’s in the box. He’s not a corner. It wasn’t that bad,” Harbison said. “When you play in the box, the turns are different. When you’re a corner, you can’t be slamming the brakes.”
Expect junior Martin Jenkins, redshirt freshman Cortez Davis and true freshman Travis Blanks, a January enrollee, to push for playing time at corner this fall.
“Blanks did a great job this spring,” Harbison said. “He showed how he could handle himself in situations out there on the field, now he’s got to get out there with the lights on. Blanks could really be a positive for us.”
Davis who stands 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, redshirted last fall; Harbison said he has “some work to do.”
“I like his body, I like his size, he’s got the build,” Harbison said. “We’ve got to get him to focus on the little things, the technique. You’ve got young guys sometimes that progress faster than others. I’m expecting him to have a good camp. He did make some headway in the new system. I like that, and I like his size, what he brings to be able to rotate.”