SUNSET – 21.
That’s the amount of career snaps between Clemson’s projected starting cornerbacks, true sophomore Cordrea Tankersley (6-0 195) and redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander (5-11 185).
Both talents have taken the long road, however, despite their youth.
Alexander was the big-shot five-star from sunny South Florida most every pundit expected to be a instant-impact type. An injury (groin) before fall camp's start sidelined him for the season – Venables not getting an in-person look at Alexander until this spring.
“I think (Alexander) is ready to play,” said Venables. “At what level? We’ll see. Maybe he’s a third corner, but I still feel really good about him. I want to see how Mackensie handles adversity. As coaches, we all think that we’ve done a good job of humbling guys and handling success, but I want to see how he handles adversity. He had adversity a year ago. Of course, had to sit out the whole year. That’s hard on anybody.
“I thought I saw Alexander get better. From the beginning to the end – I definitely didn’t think he was game-ready by the end of the spring. But I know he was a freshman in the spring.”
Mackensie’s response to his challenge caught the third-year coordinator’s eye: “I’m going to show you – watch.”
“I love the confidence,” Venables said. “He understands why there’s questions marks and why there’s still a lot for him to prove. He needs to be better than he was in the spring for us to be a good defense, much less a great defense.”
“First time in a new system, what you normally see after they come back that first semester…there’s usually this cataclysmic jump – I don’t know where you are at the end of that jump, but usually there’s this huge jump in your maturation, understanding, aggressiveness, physicalness, confidence from the end of spring to the end of fall camp. You gain experience through your first year of competing. You hope and believe that that takes place.”
Swinney confident in secondary
Tankersley went the Hargrave prep school route before enrolling early last year. The Beech Island product made the most of his on-field time as a true freshman with nine special teams tackles and 13 total.
The talk of spring, Tankersley capped it off with five tackles (0.5 TFL) and a team-best two pass breakups in the spring game.
“Cordrea Tankersley, really saw him, and really did not see this from many guys – really saw him become a different player,” Venables said. “Make a lot of improvement, take coaching and the confidence level and understanding. Just trying to do your job. Don’t try to make every play and make the plays you’re supposed to make. Fitting in the grand scheme.”
Filling two corner spots, Venables is looking for same improvement he saw 2012 to 2013.
“You don’t win by putting together a good combine time,” Venables said. “You have to play the game of football. You got to be physical out there. The prior year we weren’t physical – we weren’t tough on the edges. That was a big emphasis and I really felt we made great progress and it showed up.”