By Philip Sikes // Athletic Communications
With a renowned front seven, the biggest mystery (at least publicly) on a veteran Tiger defense is the secondary. Specifically, the cornerback positions, where Bashaud Breeland left a year early for the NFL and senior Darius Robinson moved on after graduation.
Though he has not played a snap, fans likely know the name Mackensie Alexander. He redshirted the 2013 season due to injury, but was rated by ESPN.com as the nation’s No. 4 prospect regardless of position coming out of Immokalee High School in Florida. But it’s the spot opposite Alexander that raised the most eyebrows coming out of spring ball.
Silver Bluff High School product Cordrea Tankersley nailed down the first-team position when the summer two-deep was released. This after logging just 21 snaps last fall as a freshman.
“He’s got the tools,” said defensive backs coach Mike Reed. “Watching him throughout the spring, we knew it’d be only a matter of time before he settled down. He was a corner in high school and can cover, so he’ll be counted on heavily.”
Reed said the competition in his unit has risen dramatically as players have earned more experience, citing guys like Tankersley and fellow sophomores Jayron Kearse and Korrin Wiggins.
“Guys have been in the pressure cooker, so now the lights won’t be as bright,” Reed said.
Tankersley, who spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy before enrolling at Clemson, could hardly contain his enthusiasm when thinking of the Tigers’ opener “between the hedges” on Aug. 30.
“I’m amped up just thinking about it, man,” he said. “I may have only played 20 snaps or whatever, but I’m prepared for 90 snaps (against Georgia), if that’s what it takes.”
To be a truly elite defense, the Tigers need all three levels playing as one. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables spoke to the media after the first practice in “shells” Monday and said that this year’s Tigers were the deepest on all three levels since he arrived at Clemson in 2012.
Tankersley acknowledged the starting roles vacated by Breeland and Robinson left big shoes to fill, but seems comfortable with the aura of mystique.
“Let us be the talk of the town,” he said. “Every day we come to practice, we feel like we have something to prove.”
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