Tigers' defensive backfield has some big shoes to fill

Clemson defensive back Byron Maxwell, a former standout at Fort Dorchester High School, intercepts a pass while covering North Carolina State's Owen Spencer last season in Raleigh.

CLEMSON -- There is replacing experience and then there is the task of replacing Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor.

Butler and Chancellor played a combined 1,463 snaps at cornerback last year, helping Clemson to the nation's seventh-rated pass defense.

The departed duo started 40 consecutive games together.

During the last three seasons they manned their respective islands for 4,018 plays -- or 74 percent of all Clemson's No. 1 and No. 2 cornerback snaps.

Clemson never ranked lower than 13th in the nation in pass defense during their three years as starters.

With Butler and Chancellor in NFL camps, is the Tigers' staff concerned about cornerback play as they prepare for the first summer scrimmage today?

Not really.

"Yeah, Chancellor and Butler were pretty good players, great people … they knew the system, they started the first play of a bunch of games," Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "But there's a lot of guys back there that played a bunch of snaps. (Xavier) Brewer played back there, (Coty) Sensabaugh, (Byron) Maxwell played a great deal.

"We've got a bunch of guys that have played a lot of snaps."

Maxwell (311 snaps), Sensabaugh (142), Brewer (119), Adams (12) combined for 584 snaps last season. It was considerable experience, though the four failed to combine for as much on-field time as Butler (740 snaps) or Chancellor (723).

Despite the loss of experience, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is encouraged much the way he was last summer with the safety position. Despite losing Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons to the NFL, Swinney's confidence in DeAndre McDaniel, Rashard Hall and Marcus Gilchrist proved correct.

This fall at corner, Maxwell has the most experience after Gilchrist, with whom he's listed as a starter on the preseason depth chart. Swinney said Maxwell had a great opening week of camp and has "transformed" himself.

Swinney praised sophomore Spencer Adams for "turning the corner mentally" after Swinney felt he was not always "engaged" in 2009.

Swinney says Coty Sensabaugh is in better shape physically.

The freshman corners are promising, though Swinney says the staff needs more time for evaluation.

Gilchrist appears ready to emerge from the shadows of Chancellor and Butler. Some national analysts rated Gilchrist as a top-50 cornerback last year, but the senior was forced into a utility role, splitting time as a third corner and safety due to the presence of Chancellor and Butler.

"Gilchrist is just a machine," Swinney said. "He might be the best player, overall the most complete player on defense. The guy I'm most pleased with is Xavier Brewer. He has been tremendous. He has made himself very relevant. "

Though there are only two corners in a traditional base defense, depth is important.

Steele said Clemson spent more time last fall in nickel defense than in conventional seven-man fronts. It means Clemson has to not only replace Butler and Chancellor's quality play, but the nickel and dime production that Gilchrist and others contributed last season.

In age of spread offenses and pass-heavy tendencies, teams are forced to play more and more defensive backs.

Still, the Tigers are confident their defensive backs are deep and talented enough to meet the challenge.

"I think we see the game changing today," Gilchrist said. "The more receivers, the more (defensive backs) you need. I feel like we have a lot of depth, a lot of guys that can play."

Bowers with family

Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers did not practice Monday and is expected to miss most of the week following the death of his father on Sunday. The 51-year-old's cause of death was not given.

Bowers was close with his father, Dennis, an accomplished musician. They performed together earlier this month.

Swinney traveled to Bamberg on Sunday night to be with Bowers.

"This is a difficult situation," Swinney said. "He was very close to his dad. They had a wonderful relationship. It is always tough to lose a parent, but at 20, to lose your father, that is very difficult."

Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School gymnasium.

Extra points

Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker was named Monday to the Maxwell Award watch list, awarded to the nation's most outstanding football player. McDaniel was named to the Bednarik Award watch list, given to the nation's top defensive player. … Jarvis Jenkins (concussion) returned to practice Monday after missing practice Saturday.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com, check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow him on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).