Clemson's Alexander adjusts to new hybrid role

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When the game is on the line for Clemson -- when the Tigers have four plays left to win -- first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele takes comfort in knowing that defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Ricky Sapp will be on the field.

What he doesn't want, though, is for senior Kevin Alexander to be standing next to him.

"You just feel a little better if you look out there and see Kevin, Da'quan AND Ricky," Steele said.

Unless, of course, you're lining up on offense.

When the Tigers' defense lines up in their nickel and dime packages, Alexander will be used as a defensive end, the position he's played most of his career at Clemson. But when they're in regular calls, Alexander will morph into another bandit end that's used exactly like a strongside linebacker. The new responsibilities Alexander had to learn were only about 20 percent more than he was used to, Steele said. The bandit end is an outside linebacker/defensive end depending on the call.

Prior to Steele's arrival, Clemson's defense had been heavily a nickel package defense, using five defensive backs and two linebackers. Because of that, the linebackers were good athletes, but didn't have much size. In some of Steele's calls, he said he needs a strongside linebacker to "create a telephone post on the end of the line of scrimmage."

"Obviously a 220-pound telephone post is not quite as effective as a 265-pound telephone post," Steele said. "If the tight end blocks down and you've got to take a pulling guard on, obviously he's a pretty massive fellow running in there."

The 6-foot-3 senior emerged from the shadow of former Tiger Phillip Merling, who he played behind as a freshman and sophomore. Alexander has never missed a game, and started 10 last year. He saw increased playing time after Sapp tore his ACL at Virginia.

Alexander, who started his career at Clemson as a backup inside linebacker in 2006, said he's about "halfway" to where he needs to be to master both defensive end and outside linebacker at the same time. He goes to the linebacker position meeting first, and then joins the defensive ends.

"I feel like both of them are my home, because I played linebacker all my life," Alexander said. "I got moved to defensive end when I came to college."

Alexander said he thinks this move will give him the best chance to make a name for himself and catch the attention of some NFL scouts. He and Sapp had been rotating at the bandit end spot, but he's hoping this new role at outside linebacker will increase his playing time.

"I think it's a good opportunity for me," he said. "It benefits me more. NFL teams are playing more of a 3-4 and a 4-3. I can go from a down defensive end to a linebacker, so I can play both of them."

And that's exactly what Steele is asking him to do.