It has only been a few weeks since Clemson sophomore Derion Kendrick switched from wide receiver to cornerback, but it is safe to say that the move is already paying off for both the Tigers and for Kendrick.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney spoke last week and applauded Kendrick’s willingness to play either side of the ball, adding that the Rock Hill native is a rare athlete who has the potential to start on offense or defense.
Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who is not typically easily impressed, echoed those comments when speaking with the media after practice on Wednesday and added that Kendrick has already positioned himself to be a starter at cornerback this fall.
“If you said name the starters today, you’re picking two, he’s one of those two starters today,” Venables said. “When that decision was made, really he’s just taken off. Very natural, got great instincts, very tough, competitive, incredible transitional movement... He’s still learning a lot of the nuances and intricacies of what we do. But it comes very easy to him.”
Kendrick’s emergence does not necessarily mean that Clemson’s other cornerbacks are struggling. Kendrick has just been that impressive.
Junior A.J. Terrell will be a starter again in 2019 after starting on Clemson’s national championship team last season, but there is an open spot opposite him with Trayvon Mullen leaving early for the NFL.
Kyler McMichael, Mario Goodrich and LeAnthony Williams are a few of the players vying for the other starting spot, in addition to Kendrick.
When Clemson had some injuries at cornerback early on this spring with Goodrich and McMichael missing time, Kendrick moved over to defense to help out. He played so well on that side of the ball that the move appears as if it may be permanent.
“I’m going to go hard at whatever I do... I don’t really have a preference. As long as I’m on the field it doesn’t really matter,” Kendrick said. “The biggest thing to learn is just the basics of the whole defense, that’s it. I really knew everything about corner and stuff from high school, so it really comes natural.”
Clemson has had other players that could play on both sides of the ball in the past.
Spartanburg native Adam Humphries, who just signed a new deal with the Tennessee Titans, played cornerback for the Tigers in emergency situations during his college career, and more recently Florida native Ray-Ray McCloud did as well.
Still, both of those players spent the vast majority of their careers at receiver. Kendrick could be different.
“Adam Humphries could do it. He could’ve started for us on either side of the ball for sure. Ray-Ray could’ve started for us on either side of the ball, but he didn’t really wanna do it. DK, he’s like, ‘Put me in coach. I just wanna play ball.’ And I love that,” Swinney said. “He’s just got the right mindset.”
The right mindset and the rare skill set to match it.
“I haven’t been around many guys that can just transition like that. But he’s a unique guy,” Swinney said. “He’s very skilled. Very tough. Very instinctive and smart football player, obviously, to be able to do that. That’s why you don’t see many guys that can do that.”
Clemson Spring Football Game
When: Saturday, April 6 at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium in Clemson