With seven returning starters back from a unit that ranked in the top 10 nationally in both scoring and total defense, expectations are extremely high for Clemson’s defense this fall.
Not only do the defending national champions return starters such as defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, linebackers Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph, safety Van Smith and cornerback Ryan Carter, but they also bring back a wealth of depth at all three levels. There is even talk that this year’s defense, potentially, could be better than the 2014 unit which led the nation in total defense as well as nine other defensive categories.
“We got a long way to go. It has been good,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
It’s hard not to get excited about what the Tigers have back on defense. Clemson recorded three shutouts during its national championship run last season, including a 31-0 thumping of Ohio State in the College Football Playoff, the first time it had been shut out in 23 years.
Clemson also led the nation in tackles for loss and was third nationally in sacks. Wilkins and Lawrence were both All-Americans and Ferrell earned Most Valuable Player honors in the Fiesta Bowl win over the Buckeyes.
Outside of Alabama, no defense in the country is as feared as Clemson’s coming into the new season. However, none of that matters to Venables. All he wants to see is his players get better.
“We are looking a lot of different combination of guys and different rotations,” he said. “We don’t really want to say anyone has solidified themselves. We have not solidified the units anyway. It is a work in progress.
“We are pleased with the progress we have made through spring practices. There is, and again, we go through this period whether it is fall camp or season or spring ball, there is going to be some days, plays and drills that are good and some that are bad. We have to keep it all in perspective. We have to keep fine tuning some things. Keep sharping each other and competing with each other. We can put them in stressful situations and experiment with some things and then kind of go from there.”