More than two weeks into fall football camp, Swinney has seen progress but not nearly enough to ease his concerns heading into the opener with No. 5 Georgia on Aug. 31.
“Everybody knows that’s the area of our team that’s got to improve the most,” Swinney said. “We’ve made improvement, but nowhere what we need to be the type of caliber team we want to have.”
And that’s a lot, based on last year.
The Tigers were 71st nationally and sixth in the ACC with 240 passing yards allowed. Only Duke (29) and Maryland (24) gave up more passing touchdowns in the league last year than Clemson’s 23 and 16 of 39 opponent touchdowns went for 20 yards or more.
Injurieswere a big problem. And now experienced Rashard Hall is gone and the position’s coach (Mike Reed) is new.
This fall, however, the injured players are healthy and Clemson has brought in a slew of young talent to address the secondary.
“We’ve got to make sure this year the secondary isn’t the problem,” said Breeland, a junior who’s started 12 of 24 games at Clemson.
Swinney and his staff did their part in recruiting, signing eight defensive backs in last February’s class.
Swinney wanted young players who’d push the older guys into stepping up their game. That’s what has happened so far in camp, said defensive tackle Carlos Watkins.
“Actually, those young guys are looking pretty good,” Watkins said. Sammy Watkins, Clemson’s All-American receiver, says he’s been pushed hard by all the defensive backs.
“We’re seeing them get better,” he said.
Jenkins, Breeland, Robinson and Garry Peters, who started five of Clemson’s final eight games last year, have a leg up on the cornerback spots. Travis Blanks, a freshman standout at linebacker in 2012, has moved to safety. Junior Robert Smith looks to have the other safety spot over freshman Jadar Johnson.
Korrin Wiggins, another true freshman, could get the first call when the Tigers go to their five back sets.
Not everything has gone smoothly. Alexander has been hampered by a groin injury that’s kept him out of practice, while safety Jayron Kearse (nephew of ex-NFL All-Pro Jevon Kearse) injured his shoulder at Clemson’s scrimmage.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables says the lack of depth means the Tigers must count on inexperienced players.
“We knew going in that those guys would have to play,” he said. “Ready or not, here we come.”