Clemson’s defensive line is recognized as being one of the top lines in the nation after being the leader in tackles for loss, but their secondary has been questioned for the 2014 season.
Although the secondary has been plagued with injury and inexperience, Clemson’s defensive unit as a whole contains immense talent. With the absence of past cornerback starters Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson, new talent will be getting the chance to shine.
The summer depth chart listed the least experienced from the lot to be the starters: redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander and sophomore Cordrea Tankersley will be backed up by their more seasoned teammates, Gary Peters and Martin Jenkins. With a defensive line that is stocked with veteran talent, these players will have many opportunities to standout and showcase their own talents.
Mackensie Alexander (5-foot-11, 185-pounds) RFr.
The highly anticipated arrival of ESPN’s number 4 player in the nation, number 2 defensive back and 5-star recruit of 2013 was met with a heart-breaking preseason injury that prevented Alexander from playing his first season at Clemson. He was forced to take a redshirt year to recover and prepare for the next year, and he came back full swing in the spring season. The coaches finally got to see the talent that made him a highly touted recruit and seemed to be pretty smitten with his progress and recovery. They named him a primary starter for the 2014 season.
In high school, Alexander totaled 139 tackles and 10 interceptions. Alexander also ran track and was ranked in the top 15 of wrestlers in Florida. He played in the U.S. Army All-American game and was listed as a preseason first-team freshman All-American by ESPN.
In ESPN’s poll for the defensive ACC rookie of the year, Alexander is currently in first place, and it will not be a surprise if he ends up landing the title later on in the year. Alexander will be a key factor in the success of Clemson’s secondary.
Cordrea Tankersley (6-foot-0, 195-pounds) So.
Tankersley started playing for Clemson as a true freshman in the 2013 season. He spent the majority of his time contributing to special teams where he led the team in number of special teams tackles. He played for 21 snaps and totaled 13 tackles, 9 of which were for special teams. He impressed Dabo Swinney in the spring enough to be listed as a starting corner alongside Alexander. Swinney commented that he liked how much Tankersley cares about the game and how coachable he is.
Before he came to Clemson, Tankersley was ranked by Rivals as the #39 safety in the nation and the #25 athlete by 247Sports. He is a versatile player who totaled 40 tackles in his senior year, but also had 650 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns as well as 708 passing yards.
Garry Peters (6-foot-0, 185-pounds) Sr.
Peters possesses the level of experience that the younger corners lack, after starting in five of the 33 games he has played in. In 781 snaps, Peters has totaled 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and a caused and recovered fumble. He was well on his way to becoming an established corner until he suffered a midseason injury in 2013. Although the injury was not season ending, it set him back from the progress he was making. However, he played in the Orange Bowl and had two key tackles and a pass breakup.
Peters redshirted his freshman year and played sparingly in 2011. He played for 12 snaps over 11 games and all 6 of his tackles were on special teams. In 2012, he made a name for himself when he started in 5 games, had his first interception, and had a game-high two pass breakups in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Louisiana State University.
In high school, Peters played both quarterback and defensive back, which led him to become ESPN’s #10 athlete in the nation. Rivals also ranked him as the #20 cornerback.
Martin Jenkins (5-foot-9, 185-pounds) Sr.
Jenkins is another experienced and versatile player. While at Clemson, he has played cornerback, nickel back and on special teams. He started as a true freshman and continued to flourish in the 2011 season where he started in three games. He was forced to redshirt for the 2012 season due to a preseason hernia, but came back strong for the 2013 season. In that season alone, he started in four games and played for 311 snaps. He completed 26 tackles, one for loss, and had a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown. He has 62 career tackles in 677 snaps over 38 games.
In high school, ESPN ranked Jenkins as the nation’s #38 cornerback. His speed and agility that he refined while running for his high school’s track team helped him to score an impressive 12 touchdowns in his senior year. He scored three of those from interception returns, two off of a punt return, and one off of a kickoff return.
Although the security of Clemson’s secondary has been questioned, new starters Alexander and Tankersley may be the answer. With Peters and Jenkins as backups, Clemson’s corners should not be taken lightly. Both will certainly still see the field in nickel and dime packages. Other talented cornerbacks that have drawn the attention from coaches are redshirt freshmen Adrian Baker and Marcus Edmonds. Although not listed on the depth chart, they most certainly add to the depth of this position and should be taken note of.