Sizing up the ACC: Youth movement shaping Clemson DBs

Clemson safety Jayron Kearse returns an interception against Virginia at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.

Photo by Sefton Ipock, Independent Mail

Clemson safety Jayron Kearse returns an interception against Virginia at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.

Having Vic Beasley and co. upfront certainly doesn’t hurt Clemson’s last line of defense.

It’s a secondary that’s had its issues going on three seasons now, making some strides in 2013. The Tigers finished ninth in the ACC in defensive yards per pass in 2011 and 2012, improving to sixth last season (6.9) but giving up seven of 50 yards or more (11th in the conference).

Thanks to the pressure upfront however, Brent Venables’ pass defense ranked No. 3 in the ACC (201 YPG) and top-20 nationally, giving up the second-least touchdowns (14) and picking off the third-most passes (18) in the conference.

Clemson also made the top-20 in pass efficiency defense (114.20).

2013 pass defense v. pass efficiency leaders

1. Florida State – 156.6 YPG/5.1 YPA/93.77 rating

2. Louisville – 170.8 YPG/6 YPA/99.16 rating

3. Virginia Tech – 172.3 YPG/6.2 YPA/101.16 rating

4. Clemson – 200.6 YPG/6.9 YPA/114.20 rating

5. Wake Forest – 224.1 YPG/6.4 YPA/126.8 rating

Returning leaders – Interceptions (DBs)

1. Anthony Harris (Virginia) – 8

2. Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) – 6

T-3. Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech) – 5

T-3. Charles Gaines (Louisville) – 5

T-4. Jayron Kearse (Clemson) – 4

T-4. Tracy Howard (Miami) – 4

T-4. Nate Andrews (Florida State) – 4

T-4. Breon Borders (Duke) – 4

T-4. Terell Floyd (Louisville) – 4

Returning leaders – Passes defended (DBs)

1. Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) – 17

2. Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest) – 15

3. Anthony Harris (Virginia) – 14

4. Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech) – 13

T-5. Ladarius Gunter (Miami) – 12

T-5. Charles Gaines (Louisville) – 12

Projecting the ACC Defensive Backs

(If you haven’t been around with us before, the rankings are based on production/field impact – not a straight measure of their abilities like a NFL draft board. We’re looking at not only the player’s ability, but the surrounding cast that can help him get the W's and numbers.)

Tier 1

1) Virginia Tech

Outlook: Kendall Fuller proved to be every bit worth the hype by leading the ACC in passes defended as a freshman. Fellow freshman All-American Brandon Facyson occupies the other side, while free safety Kyshoen Jarrett is the Hokies’ leading tackler back (71).

2) Florida State

Outlook: No one in the country has really come close to the no-fly zone established by the Seminoles over the last two seasons. No team has topped 300 passing yards (Clemson one of the closest with 290 in 2012 at Tallahassee) – and only nine, over 200 yards, in 28 games. They lose a couple playmakers in Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks, but the talent just reloads at Florida State, led by Jalen Ramsey (former 5-star) and P.J. Williams (10 passes defended)

3) Louisville

Outlook: The Cardinals were right up there among the nation’s best last year (No. 4 in pass efficiency D; No. 5 in pass D), losing safety Calvin Pryor as a first-round NFL draft pick. Both starting corners, Terell Floyd and Charles Gaines, rank among the ACC returning leaders in picks and passes defensed.

Tier 2

4) Clemson

Outlook: Coming out of spring, Clemson appears to be undergoing a youth movement with redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander and sophomore Cordrea Tankersley your new starting corners. Bashaud Breeland will be missed, but now we’ll see a glimpse of the recruiting hauls of the last couple years. The safeties are solid starting with Robert Smith, who posted 71 tackles last season. After splitting time, Jayron Kearse has some high expectations on him – a Phil Steele All-ACC candidate after four interceptions in his debut. Travis Blanks is set to compete at nickelback returning from a knee injury. This group could very well be the difference between ‘good’ and ‘elite’ for Clemson.

5) Wake Forest

Outlook: The Deacs have had some statsheet-stuffers over the last couple years, but haven’t put it together much as a unit. As a freshman, Merril Noel led the nation in passes defended, but last season, Kevin Johnson paced Wake Forest with nine pass breakups and three interceptions. Wake Forest was third in the ACC in def. yards per pass (6.4) and second in 20-yard-plus passes surrendered (27).

6) Virginia

Outlook: Safety Anthony Harris led the nation with eight interceptions, totaling 80 tackles. Maurice Canady held down one corner with eight pass breakups. The Hoos were one of five ACC teams in the top-50 in pass efficiency ‘D’ last season.

7) Miami

Outlook: The ‘Canes had a top-60 pass efficiency ‘D’ and a pass defense rank in the 90s (92) last season. They aren’t lacking for talent with cornerbacks Tracy Howard (4 INTs) and Ladarius Gunter (12 passes defended).

8) Syracuse

Outlook: The Syracuse secondary was torched by Tajh Boyd (16.9 yards per attempt, 455 yards, 5 TDs, 74 completion percentage), but that wasn’t indicative of their season as a whole. They were firmly middle-of-the-road (No. 57 in YPP/No. 64 in PD/No. 65 in PED), returning the core of their production (leading tackler and interceptions in Durell Eskridge, 78 and 4);

9) North Carolina

Outlook: The Tar Heels secondary made strides last season, losing 17 pass breakups between Tre Boston and Jabari Price. Returning strong safety Dominique Green picked off three passes with five pass breakups in 2013.

10) N.C. State

Outlook: Rising junior DBs Juston Burris and Hakim Jones combined to breakup 14 passes with three interceptions last season. The Wolfpack do lose Dontae Johnson and his 81 tackles after finishing below average in efficiency (No. 68) and top-50 in pass ‘D’ (No. 47).

Tier 3

11) Pittsburgh

Outlook: Pitt returns one from a solid starting safety duo – leading tackler Jason Hendricks gone (85) and Michigan transfer Ray Vinopal back (83 tackles, three interceptions, 6 PBUs).

12) Georgia Tech

Outlook: Tech was in the top-four in the ACC in pass defense in 2011 and 2012, but slipped back to 12th last season, giving up 7.4 yards per pass and 245 yards a game. They lose playmaker Jemea Thomas on top of that.

13) Boston College

Outlook: The Eagles have returning experience, but will that equal production? They were a distant last in pass defense (268.3 YPG; 113th) and pass efficiency defense (152.22; 107th) last season.

14) Duke

Outlook: Duke gave up a league-worst 54 20-yards-plus completions in 2013, ranking next-to-last in the ACC in pass defense. No ACC team was thrown on as much as the Blue Devils last year, fielding 460 attempts giving up 25 touchdowns (13th) with 18 interceptions (T-3).

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Comments » 4

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

Who cares about 2 or 3 years ago or last year for that matter. Are we gonna be worth hoot this year? With a couple of guys back and Alexander being out there it seems as though we should have a really good secondary. Does anybody agree with me?

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

If things go like they very well may, our secondary could be a strong part of our team. Does that make sense to anybody? My reasoning is sound and makes plenty of sense. Here it is: Our front 7 will be so good most quarterbacks will either be passing the ball while lying flat on their backs or under such ferocious pressure we may not need anyone in the secondary. That's not realalistic but you all get what I mean by that. We have the players that can put so much pressure on the QB the secondary may wind up with really great numbers due to the other's on the defensive team. I am really looking forward to seeing how we do on the road in Athens to start the season. It should be interesting and tell us a lot about what to expect over the next 11 weeks. With a vastly improved secondary coupled with the frong 7 back, our defense, if only improves marginally, will be awfully good and running the ball against them will be next to impossible. We were real good against the run last year if you all remember.

Xander5000 writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

If things go like they very well may, our secondary could be a strong part of our team. Does that make sense to anybody? My reasoning is sound and makes plenty of sense. Here it is: Our front 7 will be so good most quarterbacks will either be passing the ball while lying flat on their backs or under such ferocious pressure we may not need anyone in the secondary. That's not realalistic but you all get what I mean by that. We have the players that can put so much pressure on the QB the secondary may wind up with really great numbers due to the other's on the defensive team. I am really looking forward to seeing how we do on the road in Athens to start the season. It should be interesting and tell us a lot about what to expect over the next 11 weeks. With a vastly improved secondary coupled with the frong 7 back, our defense, if only improves marginally, will be awfully good and running the ball against them will be next to impossible. We were real good against the run last year if you all remember.

That first and one game will not tell the whole story of how our defense will play for the next eleven weeks. The defense may come out owning all of the Northern part of Georgia and be that way all year long....**which I really want to see happen**.......or...... they can give all they have and then flop.....or.... the D-line may have a bad game but the D-backs and Linebackers do well....or....the whole defense messes up but improve back to domination in week 4. So many scenarios that can play out with this year's group. I just want these guys to NOT go out like somebody that does not want to fight.....don't go out like they don't have pride.....don't go out like they don't have a spine.....don't go out like a weak pink punk. Go out like men that stand tall eventhough some may be short. Go out and let them dogs know that they are going to have to beat the whole nation of Clemson Tigers that night. This goes for our defense and our offense. Do it not for just the first game but for every game this season.

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

in response to Xander5000:

That first and one game will not tell the whole story of how our defense will play for the next eleven weeks. The defense may come out owning all of the Northern part of Georgia and be that way all year long....**which I really want to see happen**.......or...... they can give all they have and then flop.....or.... the D-line may have a bad game but the D-backs and Linebackers do well....or....the whole defense messes up but improve back to domination in week 4. So many scenarios that can play out with this year's group. I just want these guys to NOT go out like somebody that does not want to fight.....don't go out like they don't have pride.....don't go out like they don't have a spine.....don't go out like a weak pink punk. Go out like men that stand tall eventhough some may be short. Go out and let them dogs know that they are going to have to beat the whole nation of Clemson Tigers that night. This goes for our defense and our offense. Do it not for just the first game but for every game this season.

Based on last year's performance, it is difficult to believe they won't be better this year. Not going on the field to dominate the opposeing offense is out of the question. They are not the kind of players to "rest on their laurels" either. They will go full speed ahead on every play the entire season. Like I said, it will be almost impossible to run against us and the pass rush we will generate will make the secondary's job much easier. Naturally, they will be better in game 12 than game 1 but game one will give us an idea of how things are gonna be.

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