Aug. 11, 1999
While the Clemson offensive players spent much of the spring learning new formations and terminology, the Tigers defensive players didn’t spend nearly as much time in tutorial sessions. Bowden retained defensive coordinator Reggie Herring when he took over at Clemson, so much of the defensive theory will remain the same.
Herring has been a linebacker coach at Clemson since December of 1993, and spent the 1997 and 1998 seasons as defensive coordinator. In both of his seasons as defensive coordinator, Clemson ranked in the top 25 in the nation in total defense. Last year, in Clemson’s 3-8 season, rushing defense and total defense were not problems, as Clemson ranked in the top 25 nationally in both areas. Additionally, Clemson led the ACC in sacks and was second in the league to Florida State in rushing defense, total defense and third-down conversion defense.
Overall, Clemson has a strong heritage when it comes to defense. Over the last 10 years, Clemson has ranked in the top 20 in rushing defense eight times, in the top 20 in scoring defense seven times and in the top 25 in total defense five seasons. Clemson is the only school in the nation that has had a defensive player drafted in the first round each of the last three years.
Herring will play a 4-3 defense in 1999, a formation Clemson used much of last year even though it was called a 50. The Tigers will lineup with two defensive tackles, two defensive ends, three linebackers, and four defensive backs this season.
Clemson’s level of proficiency will be a function of the performance of six returning starters and 23 total returning lettermen. Clemson is most deep when it comes to starters in the secondary, yet one of the areas of concern this fall is depth in the secondary and at linebacker.
“The general philosophy on defense mirors the philosophy on offense,” said Bowden. “If we are going to be upbeat, fast tempo on offense I want to play a similar style defensively. Reggie’s style and temperment is consistent with that style.
“However Reggie wants to keep the opposition out of the endzone, that is the objective. We want to force the offense to make plays. Putting on a lot of defensive pressure is the best way to do that. We will take away the easy throws and get in their face. That is what they have done here in the past.”
The Tigers have two returning starters and eight returning lettermen upfront, probably the deepest area of the Clemson team. But, there are no returning stars from this area of defense that has had a first or second-team All-ACC player every year since 1981.
Former Clemson defensive linemen who have excelled in the pros in recent years include two-time Super Bowl Champion Trevor Pryce with the Denver Broncos, six-time Pro Bowl Selection Michael Dean Perry, San Francisco 49er Brentson Buckner and 1999 draftee Adrian Dingle. Dingle set a Clemson single season sack record with 10.5 last year and he will be the biggest replacement on the front line this year.
A player Clemson will look to for leadership and production upfront this year is returning starter Terry Bryant. The native of Georgia suffered an ankle injury in 1998 that forced him to miss the last three and a half games. He was consistent over the first eight games with 26 tackles and was a big reason Clemson allowed just 104 yards per game on the ground.
Gary Childress is a second returning starter on the defensive line. Perhaps Clemson’s most improved lineman from 1997 to 1998, Childress started all 11 games and finished the season with 32 tackles. He had two tackles for loss and five tackles in the win over South Carolina and had a tackle for loss in the endzone for a safety against Virginia.
Damonte McKenzie and Terry Jolly are two multi-year lettermen who are also top line players at defensive tackle. Both have started games over their careers, but would not be considered returning starters. McKenzie is the only three-year letterman on the defensive front and had 37 tackles last year, including five for loss. He had 19 tackles in the last four games to finish with a flourish. Jolly started off and on the last two seasons and had 27 tackles while playing 35 plays per game a year ago. He might have been Clemson’s top lineman in the spring and he had seven tackles, including a pair of tackles for loss in the spring game.
Jason Hollomon posted 31 tackles and four sacks last year, including a pair of sacks at Florida State. He has earned two letters in his career. Jovon Bush is a reserve tackle with great potential. He lettered as a freshman, but his playing time should increase. Freddie James, one of the top student-athletes in an engineering curriculum, had 22 tackles in 11 games a year ago and played in every game. He had a career high five tackles against South Carolina and followed that with six tackles in the spring game.
Three red-shirt freshmen should aid the Clemson cause this year. Nick Eason, an outside linebacker during his red-shirt season, has moved to defensive end, while Brandon Rouse is a 255-pounder who is also a factor in the defensive line. He was listed second-team behind Terry Bryant in spring practice.
“The defensive line is probably our strongest area when you look at our defense, especially when you consider the future. We only have one senior at defensive end. Terry Bryant can be an All-ACC type player for us. Terry Jolly had a good spring, he showed signs of becoming a very good player, but there is another level there for him.”
Traditionally, Clemson has been one of the best in the nation when it comes to linebackers. In recent years, one publication listed Clemson as the top linebacker producer in the country, and that has been reflected in the performance of recent NFL players Levon Kirkland, Ed McDaniel, Wayne Simmons and Anthony Simmons. Six former Clemson linebackers were in the NFL last year.
No player with that type of star quality is on the roster this year. In fact, Clemson is as inexperienced in this area as it has been in the last decade. Harold Means is a returning starter, but Bowden must replace leading tackler Chris Jones (128 stops) and second-round draft choice Rahim Abdullah (89 tackles, 15 tackles for loss).
Means, who played his high school football with Anthony Simmons at Spartanburg High, started seven games last year and had 94 stops, third best on the team. In fact, his 8.5 tackles per game ranked 13th best in the ACC last year and is sixth best among returning players for 1999. Means had a breakout game against South Carolina when he had two sacks and three tackles for loss. He was one of the top tacklers in the spring game with eight.
Keith Adams is a precocious sophomore who will move into a starting linebacker position. Fifteen pounds stronger as a sophomore, Adams was a first-year freshman in 1998 when he had 45 tackles in 176 plays. He had 10 tackles in the season’s 10th game against Georgia Tech, then had seven in the victory over South Carolina. He is one of the quickest young linebackers in the ACC.
Braxton K. Williams is a returning letterman who will be a frontline player on Clemson’s second line of defense. Williams had eight tackles, including two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 1998. Both of the sacks were at Virginia, where he played his best game of the season. He tied Means for game tackle honors in the spring game with eight. He is a second generation Tiger gridder, as his father was a member of Clemson’s 1982 and 1983 teams.
Altroy Bodrick, Kenzi Ross, Chad Carson and J.J. McKelvey are also in the linebacker picture. Bodrick played in nine games on defense and had seven tackles a year ago. He is listed as the first team weakside linebacker heading into the fall. Carson was a top special teams player and a top student (3.86 GPA) last year as a freshman.
Kenzi Ross played 20 snaps as a red-shirt freshman and will also challenge for playing time. He suffered a knee injury on the second day of spring practice, but he came back to post seven tackles in the spring game.
“We will be very young at linebacker, and you could see a freshman play there this year. Harold Means is our only senior back at linebacker. Until we play a game you really don’t know how tough they are. Keith Adams has muscled up and had a good spring and showed improvement, now he just has to perform on the field on Saturdays.”
Three starters return in the secondary. Robert Carswell is an all-conference candidate at the free safety position after finishing last year with 102 tackles, most in the ACC by a sophomore. His tackle total was ninth best overall in the ACC and second best among returning players for this year. The consistent player had at least nine tackles in eight of the 11 games in 1998, including 11 in the victory over South Carolina at season’s end.
Carswell ranks in the top 10 in the nation among safeties according to most of the preseason publications and is high on Bowden’s list when it comes to respect and team leadership.
“Robert Carswell had a very consistent sophomore year and he continued that in the spring. He might be the top leader of this team. DoMarco Fox played cornerback and safety in the spring and has experience we need back there. Fox could play cornerback if we need him to, but he will start the year at safety. Dextra Polite had an excellent spring at cornerback and moved into a starting role there.”
DoMarco Fox was Clemson’s starter at free safety last year, but will play strong safety this year. Fox began the spring at cornerback, but by the end of the month long workouts, he was back at safety. He has played some cornerback in his career and his diversity and experience make him a valuable asset in the secondary. Fox suffered from a knee injury late in the season, but did have 12 tackles against Georgia Tech. He had 54 tackles as a junior after recording 74 as a sophomore.
Alex Ardley is a returning starter at cornerback. As a red-shirt freshman he had 10 passes broken up, most ever by a Clemson freshman. His 70 tackles ranked fifth on the team and his 26-yard interception return for a touchdown at North Carolina was certainly a season highlight. Polite, junior college transfer in his third year on the team, had a breakout spring and overtook some younger players to move to first team.
Sophomore Charles Hafley will also see significant playing time in the secondary, especially if he can pick up where he left off against South Carolina in the 1998 season finale. He had eight tackles in 47 snaps against South Carolina and was named ACC Rookie-of-the-Week as he also registered an interception, caused fumble, recovered fumble and a touchdown saving pass deflection.
Depth in the secondary will also be provided by Darrel Crutchfield, a starter in the last two games of the 1997 season, David Evans, also a starter at times in 1997, and Chad Speck, who had a touchdown on a blocked punt return against Auburn in the 1998 Peach Bowl.
March 14, 2019