Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced on Monday the Tigers will be without the services of defensive end Richard Yeargin this coming season after the Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., native was injured in a single-vehicle accident over the weekend.
Yeargin injured his neck in the accident, an injury Swinney described as the same kind former wide receiver Mike Williams suffered after running into a goal post in the 2015 season-opener against Wofford.
What does this mean for Clemson’s depth at defensive end? As for experience, it means you lose a player who has been the system the last three years and understands what is expected of his position.
Yeargin, a redshirt junior, played in 12 games last season, while registering 14 tackles in 189 snaps. He had four tackles for loss and a half sack and three quarterback pressures.
Losing Yeargin, who was listed as the second-team defensive end on the weakside of the line, means the Clemson coaches will have to lean on some youth to help provide depth behind starter Austin Bryant. In particular Xavier Kelly, who came into the summer listed as the No. 3 guy at the strong side defensive end position.
The coaching staff compared Kelly (6-4, 265) a lot to Clelin Ferrell last summer, saying he was both physically and mentally ready to play. The two are built very similar and are very athletic. Kelly was having a good fall camp, and there was conversation of playing him in 2016, until he hit a wall late in camp, which was due in large part to a minor head injury he suffered in a moped accident.
The accident set him back, and ultimately the coaching staff decided to redshirt him so he could get healthy, learn a little more and be ready to be a contributor this coming season.
Another redshirt freshman who will compete, and he probably isn’t as physically ready right now as Kelly, is Lasamuel Davis (6-4, 210). Though he was too small to compete during the season, Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables bragged about Davis’ motor in preseason camp last year. Davis redshirted so he could get bigger and stronger. He still has a ways to go to get to where the coaching staff wants him to be physically, but they like his speed coming off the edge and they think he can be a guy who can help them on third down and obvious passing situations.
Yeargin’s injury also means true freshman Jordan Williams will have a great opportunity to play this year and avoid a redshirt. Williams, who will come into Clemson next month at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, is physically ready to compete for playing time.
The question is will Williams be able to pick things up fast enough mentally, especially when learning Venables’ defensive scheme. He is definitely talented and strong enough to play, but you just never know how long it takes a true freshman to come in and pick things up and adjust to being in college at the same time, especially those that did not enroll early in school and go through spring workouts.
—Above photo: Xavier Kelly waits in line during individual drills in a practice this past spring in Clemson. Kelly will be one of the three young players expected to fill in at weakside defensive end now that Richard Yeargin is out for the year.