Tiger D's progress slow early
CLEMSON – A five-star, two four-stars and five more freshman defensive backs stepped on campus this summer at a place of need for the Tigers.
Opponents at times last season passed at will, including almost 500 yards (493) and five touchdowns at home versus N.C. State.
No doubt that was a part of the recruiting pitch for talents like Mackensie Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.), Jayron Kearse (Fort Myers, Fla.) and more youngsters aiming for an instant-impact.
Off the unit is almost 100 career starts after graduation, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is already seeing the fruits of ’13 class.
“They’re a very athletic looking group, especially our guys in the secondary,” said Swinney. “It’s night and day. We’ve got good numbers. We’ve got really good athleticism – great feet. They can all run. I really really like the presence that we have.
“We have a lot of teaching and coaching to do, but we’re definitely a better looking group in the secondary.”
Through two practices, Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables is a little more stingy with the compliments.
“Nobody’s been great. Nobody’s been awfully bad,” Venables said Saturday night. “Just a bunch of guys trying to figure their way. Some good, some not so good.”
Rated as high as the No. 4 overall player out of high school, Alexander is one of the more intriguing players to watch out of Clemson camp. Venables can’t say much about him now out of pads and no game action on him yet, but he’s going to be watching how physical – carrying that reputation coming – Alexander can be against even the test in practice.
“He’s probably ahead of the curve,” said Venables. “A lot of freshman come in and look good – I don’t see a freshman that looks bad right now. When you get to playing and scrimmaging, you really find out a lot more.”
Taking over the safety roles, to rave reviews, are two Tigers without start at the position in junior Robert Smith and sophomore Travis Blanks.
As a true freshman, Blanks was seventh on the defense in snaps (563) and ranked second in pass breakups (7) in a nickelback role. Smith played a tick over triple-digit snaps (104) with 14 tackles last year.
“Robert and I have just taken leadership roles, stepping up,” Blanks said. “He’s a junior and I’m a sophomore, but we don’t really look at that. We’ve taken ownership of the secondary. Not that we work harder than anybody else, but we’ve just taken ownership.”
The Tigers’ DC says that ownership and work ethic is translating to the unit as a whole.
“What you enjoy about these guys, and it was that way in the spring, is they don’t mind hard work,” Venables said. “Very easy to coach and a bunch of hungry guys that feel like they have a lot to prove.”
Camp Report: Day 2, offense
Tigers offense picking up pace
Martavis moving up: Former T.L. Hanna product Martavis Bryant has been the talk of the offseason in terms of improvement. The 6-5 200 junior hasn’t disappointed so far in camp.
Bryant says he has moved up from backing up Sammy Watkins to a position atop the depth chart at DeAndre Hopkins’ former spot on the boundary – moving Watkins back to his old position last season.
“Martavis has had two really good days. Really good days,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Saturday. “But that’s just two good days. We’ll see. He’s a guy that’s got a lot to prove.
“He’s learned the hard way that this is the way we do the system, but he’s doing everything he’s been asked to and then some.”