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Clemson Football

Clemson’s Secondary Prepares to Take the Next Step

August 6, 2021

Clemson, SC – A new era has begun in Clemson following the departure of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne on the offensive side of the ball. While D.J. Uiagalelei and company are prepared to fill some pretty big shoes, it’s the Tigers secondary that might need to take the next step after a poor performance in the Sugar Bowl to close the 2020 season.

Tiger nation has been spoiled with offensive distinction for nearly a decade. While the pressure will be on Uiagalelei to continue that offensive legacy, Clemson may need to be sharper on the backend of the defense to achieve their ultimate goals.

Clemson defensive backs coach Mike Reed believes the Tigers secondary needs to “take the next step” as they head into the 2021 season. Looking back at the numbers from the past two College Football Playoff visits, it’s hard to disagree with Reed's assessment. 

When Clemson and LSU faced off in the national championship, the Bayou Bengals torched Brent Venables’ defense. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow completed 31 of 49 passes for 463 yards and 5 TDs through the air. Then a year later, Ohio State’s Justin Fields was stellar, going 22 of 28 for 385 yards and 6 TDs.

That type of defensive output-- especially on the backend of the defense-- isn’t going to deliver many victories in the postseason when even the smallest mistakes can derail a championship run.

Taking the next step for the entire secondary involves maturing in all aspects, including emotionally, physically, and mentally. Veteran players like Andrew Booth Jr., Sheridan Jones, and Mario Goodrich will be called on to step up-- and their leadership will hopefully trickle down to the newly recruited talent.

Reed will be relying heavily on Booth to spearhead the maturity mantra now that Derion Kendrick is not only off the team-- but will suit up for Georgia in the opener.

“A lot of people saw those big plays, but he’s (Booth) got to take the next step to be a consistent player. That’s just a sign of maturing,” Reed said. “You’re working harder and being healthy.”

The defensive backs coach went on to commend Booth’s work ethic during the summer and today's start to camp feels a lot like the holiday season.

“It’s almost like Christmas. You’re waiting to see on the first day of practice when you get to open that present and say, ‘Okay, he did make the necessary strides in the summer workouts that he needed to, to become one of the best corners in the country.’”

After Reed’s praise about his veteran corner’s work ethic, he went on to reiterate his expectations of his players. When asked about Jones, who will get plenty of snaps this season, Reed says it's all about taking the next step.

“Up until the point where he had an injury, he was steady Eddie,” Reed said about Jones. “You know what you are going to get out of him. Now it’s trying to take the next step. He’s an elder statesman here. He’s been playing here for a while, so now it’s time to see that maturity.”

There is no doubt that Reed expects his veteran defensive backs to set the tone for the defense. With a lot of young guys in Clemson’s secondary, practicing with diligence and commitment is key. Reed believes that iron sharpens iron, and his defensive backs will need to transfer what they learn when facing Clemson’s wide receivers to game day.

“You never know how strong a rubber band is until you pull it. When you have a good receiver and a good DB, they’re going to get better,” Reed noted about his group facing some of the best receivers in college football at practice. “That’s what I love about going against our receiving crew every day. We’re going against the best.”

 While many moving parts lead to a successful season, at the end of the day, the Clemson defensive backs will be challenged by the emerging talent of quarterbacks within the ACC this season. 

Fortunately, they’ve faced off against some of the best at practice as Reed noted recently.

“You just hope that the habits that they create on the practice field carry over to games.”

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