Jayron Kearse (6-foot-4, 205-pounds) So.
It is no surprise that Kearse has been listed as a starter again for 2014, as he had an incredible season last year. He started as a true freshman and played for 444 snaps over 12 games, three of which he started in. He also tied for a team high of four interceptions for 62 return yards. He played a great game against South Carolina, totaling 10 tackles and .5 tackles for loss, and he continued to play well in the Orange Bowl where he made a key interception.
Before he came to Clemson, both Rivals and 247Sports ranked Kearse as the number #16 athlete prospect in the nation. In his junior year alone he totaled 1,600 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. While playing safety he completed 87 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
Kearse will continue to be a key component of Clemson’s secondary with his height and speed, and he should be expected to make big plays this season.
Robert Smith (5-foot-11, 210-pounds) Sr.
Smith is a veteran player who also been named a starting safety for this season. Smith began playing Clemson football as a true freshman in 2011 where he started in one game.
Until 2013, Smith mainly played backup and contributed to special teams. It wasn’t until 2013 that he became a regular starter. Smith played an incredible season in 2013 and became noted as one of the top safeties, starting in every game. So far in his career, Smith has completed 102 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss over 977 snaps. In the 2013 Orange Bowl, he helped to turn the game around by recovering a fumble in the third quarter. Because of that, he was named co-special teams player of the game. Smith’s talent and experience will be an important aspect of Clemson’s secondary.
Smith’s pre-college stats are also impressive and should not be overlooked. In his high school career, Smith had 11,318 total yards and 124 touchdowns, 34 of which were rushing. Scout noted him for being one of the top safeties in the nation, and he is continuing to prove those statements in his college career.
Jadar Johnson (6-foot-1, 195-pounds) So.
Johnson came right out of high school to play as a true freshman reserve safety. In high school, Johnson was ranked by ESPN as the #80 athlete in the nation and South Carolina’s #9 player. Scout ranked him to be the #28 safety in the nation.
In his first season at Clemson, he played for 98 snaps and had 12 tackles and a pass break up. He is listed again as a backup safety for 2014, but Swinney has mentioned that the competition between Kearse and Johnson for the starting position is a close contest. Competition for the position is a good sign, indicating that the secondary has enough talent to make the decision on starters a difficult one and indicates that there is good talent and depth that Clemson hasn’t had at that position for quite some time.
TJ Green (6-foot-3, 195-pounds) So.
A converted wide receiver, Green has been moved back to the safety position and has proven to adjust to the change well enough to be listed as a primary backup. He played as a true freshman last season, mainly contributing on special teams. Now that he has been switched back to his natural position, Green may become a much more beneficial aspect to Clemson. His combination of height and speed will also make him a valuable matchup option for teams with taller receivers.
Other notable players in the secondary are sophomore Korrin Wiggins and junior Travis Blanks. Although they are both listed on the depth chart as co-starters for nickel back, they are versatile players who can also provide experienced depth at safety. With the established talent listed to start in the secondary in combination with the nationally recognized defensive line, Clemson’s defense is well prepared for the 2014 season.