It should be an interesting spring at defensive tackle this year. Not only did Clemson lose its senior leader from this group, but it also lost its position coach.
Dan Brooks, who had coached football for 43 years, retired from the game after the Tigers beat Alabama in the national championship game. New defensive ends coach Todd Bates will coach the entire defensive front this spring until head coach Dabo Swinney waits for the NCAA’s approval for a 10th on-the-field assistant coach, which will be his new defensive tackles coach.
Clemson also has to replace All-American and First-Team All-ACC defensive tackle Carlos Watkins. The now Clemson graduate set a new mark for a Clemson defensive tackle with a team-high 10.5 sacks, breaking William Perry’s mark of 9.5 he set in 1984, which his brother Michael Dean tied in 1987.
However, despite losing a player like Watkins, the Tigers are still loaded with talent in the trenches. Potentially, Christian Wilkins could move back inside, but if he does not, they still have freshman All-American and ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Dexter Lawrence, along with rising redshirt senior Scott Pagano.
Clemson also returns Albert Huggins, who came on strong at the end of the season, as well as redshirt freshman Nyles Pinckney, who became almost unblockable on the scout team during his redshirt season this past fall.
Dexter Lawrence: At 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, Lawrence was unblockable. The All-ACC performer started 11 games last year and finished fifth on the team with 78 tackles, including 9.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 7 sacks. He was also second on the team with 24 quarterback pressures. Lawrence was the most dominant defensive tackle Clemson has had as a true freshman since William Perry’s freshman season in 1981, which coincidently was the last time Clemson won a national championship.
Scott Pagano: The redshirt senior started the other four games last season, and despite missing three games due to an injury, he still managed 31 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Pagano (6-3, 295) is always a disruptive force when in the game as he always seems to get in the backfield and breaks up the direction of the play.
Christian Wilkins: There is no word on if Wilkins will play inside or outside for the Tigers, but we do know this much, he can play either and can be very productive at both. Wilkins (6-4, 315) was a First-Team All-American as a defensive end as he tied Watkins for the team lead with 13.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, while also recording 3.5 sacks. He had 20 quarterback pressures and deflected a team-high 10 passes at the line of scrimmage.
Albert Huggins: The rising junior got better as the season went along and became a solid contributor as a reserve. Huggins (6-4, 295) played in 13 games and logged in 218 snaps. He recorded 20 tackles overall and had 3 tackles for loss, which were all sacks.
Nyles Pinckney: As for Pinckney (6-3, 300), all he did was dominate on the scout team this past year, winning the scout team’s defensive player of the week five times last fall. Pinckney came to Clemson from Beaufort, S.C., where he was rated as the No. 4 prospect in the Palmetto State coming out of high school. He chose Clemson over South Carolina. Last summer, Pinckney was a player head coach Dabo Swinney kept singling out during post practice reports with the media. The reason Pinckney was redshirted last season was due to those guys playing in front of him.
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