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This group is one of the strongest for Clemson because it possesses a couple of playmakers. Defensive end Vic Beasley[/d] led the Tigers in sacks a year ago and is very disruptive off the edge. He is built more like an edge-rushing linebacker, but puts his hand on the ground and has tremendous quickness. He can be tough to handle at the point of attack because of his ability to get the edge, and his inside move is underrated. He can, however, get swallowed up at times against the run.
[db]Grady Jarrett is Clemson's playmaker on the interior. His pad level and quickness make him a tough matchup and he relies on quick penetration. He, like Beasley is very disruptive but teams have had success with letting him work up field and running underneath him out of the shotgun. Clemson's other defensive tackle, Josh Watson, has tremendous upside. He has excellent length and is tough to move off of his spot at the point of attack. He does a great job of absorbing double teams and combo blocks, and has the quickness to knife inside on stunts to get quick penetration. At the other defensive end position, Corey Crawford hasn't scratched the surface of his potential. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, Crawford is extremely long and athletic on the edge. He hasn't made an impact as a pass rusher just yet, but he has had his moments where he is stout against the run.
One of the toughest tasks for second year defensive coordinator Brent Venables in 2013 is to replace the production of Jonathan "Tig" Willard from a year ago.
Willard led the Tigers in tackles and tackles for a loss. He also had a ton of responsibility when it came to checking and calling the defense. Talent won't be an issue as former five-star standout Stephone Anthony will take over that middle linebacker spot. He hasn't had a chance to show what he can do to this point, but the tools are certainly there. Two returning starters at linebacker in Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian will join Anthony. Christian appears to be better in coverage on film while Shuey is the stronger downhill presence in Clemson's 4-3 alignment.
This is a group the keep an eye on for the Tigers as there will be three new starters in the defensive backfield.
Some starters may need replacing but there is certainly plenty of experience to go around. The lone returning starter, Bashaud Breeland, is a junior and there is a chance that he will be the third cornerback as fellow junior Gary Peters has had a strong fall camp. Senior Darius Robinson will also factor into the mix at cornerback. At safety, Travis Blanks will likely start for the Tigers after seeing some time last year. Blanks was a big time recruit coming out of high school and has shown some big positives in his short career with the Tigers. He is a strong tackler and a guy who can roll down and help versus the run, but it remains to be seen how strong he when asked to get in coverage on a consistent basis. Robert Smith is listed as Clemson's other safety and he is a compact but physical guy in the secondary that covers a lot of ground.
• Venables tends to stick with his base defense on first down, depending on personnel, with a few blitzes and stunts mixed in.
• Long (7 yards or more) - It appears as if the Tigers realize that most second and long situations are screen and draw-downs for the offense. Venables plays a lot of basic man coverage with help over the top, quarters coverage, or cover three on second and long.
• Medium (4-6 yards) - There is no real tendency for second down as the Tigers mix it up regularly.
• Short (less than 3 yards) - Second and short is a strong stunt or slant down for the Tigers (68%).
• Long - Venables doesn't blitz as much as some coordinators on third down and a lot of that has to do with his confidence in Beasley's ability to get to the quarterback in obvious passing situations.
• Medium - The Tigers treat third and medium almost the same way as third and long. A blitz is possible but most of the time Venables will rely on a four-man rush.
• Short - As most short yardage situations are, this is a heavy down for slants and stunts.
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