No. 8 Clemson seeking answers in secondary

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm •  Published: August 19, 2013
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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has the same worries about the Tigers secondary as almost anyone who watched them surrender too many big plays last season.

More than two weeks into fall football camp, Swinney has seen progress but not nearly enough to ease his concerns heading into the opener when the eighth-ranked Tigers take on No. 5 Georgia on August 29.

"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.

When an opponent got to the secondary on the way to the end zone, it was a good bet they wouldn't get caught from behind either: 16 of 39 opponent touchdowns went for 20 yards or more.

Injuries took a toll on the secondary in 2012.

Expected cornerback starter Martin Jenkins was lost before the season began with a hernia. Darius Robinson, another cornerback, started six games last fall until fracturing his ankle in mid-October and missing the final six games. Starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland missed the last two games after getting hurt.

Also gone is safety Rashard Hall, who led the team with four interceptions and was perhaps the secondary's best at game-changing plays.

The group has a new leader, too, in defensive backs coach Mike Reed, who was hired from North Carolina State to replace Charlie Harbison. Harbison left after the season to become co-defensive coordinator at Auburn.

This fall, the injured players are healthy and Clemson has brought in a slew of young talent to address the shortfall in 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 he's played at Clemson.

Swinney and his staff did their part in recruiting, signing eight defensive backs in last February's class including highly regarded Mackensie Alexander, a 5-foot-11, 185 pound player from Immokalee, Fla., who was ranked the fourth-best overall prospect by ESPN.com.

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