CENTRAL, S.C. — The last couple of days have been fun for former Clemson defensive tackle DeShawn Williams.
In town to help his fellow Clemson and Daniel High School alumni with the Daniel High School Football Camp on Friday, Williams has had the opportunity to work out with the current players on the Tigers’ defense.
The main conversation between the 2017 defense and Williams has been how guys like Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell have told him they are going to be better than the 2014 defense, which led the nation in total defense.
“That is all they are talking about, ‘I feel like we are going to have a 2014 year.’ I told them, ‘I don’t know now. Your D-line is good, but we had three deep. We were good,’” Williams said smiling.
Williams was right, the 2014 defense was good. In fact, you can call them great. The Tigers not only led the nation in total defense, but in 10 other categories as well. They are considered the best defense Clemson has had since the 1990 squad, led by NFL stars Levon Kirkland, Chester McGlockton and Ed McDaniel, led the nation in total defense as well.
But the 2017 defense has the potential to be great in its own right. The Tigers return seven starters off a defense that led the ACC in total defense and scoring defense and ranked eighth and 10th nationally in 2016. The defensive line, which consists of Wilkins, Lawrence and Ferrell, is considered one of the best in the country, if not the best.
The linebackers are stacked with talent as well, while the secondary has a chance to be one of the best ones Clemson has had since the late 1980s and early ’90s. In other words, it’s not a stretch for the 2017 defense to believe it can be the best in the country.
“Why not? Records are meant to be broken,” Williams said. “We were the No. 1 defense that year. Why not? I feel like if they do that, they are going to win a lot of games because you can keep the opponent from scoring.”
Of course when Williams, who now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals, was playing for the Tigers they had him and Atlanta defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in the middle. Jarrett was listed 6-foot, 290 pounds in 2014, while Williams was 6-foot-1, 295.
Lawrence is 6-foot-5, 340 pounds, while Wilkins is listed at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds.
“It is crazy,” Williams said. “Dexter is like 6-5, 340 pounds, but does not look like it at all. Christian is like 6-4, 310 pounds. I told Grady, if we were 6-4, I promise you we would’ve been first-round draft picks. I promise you.
“Coach (Dabo) Swinney is recruiting the right ones. That’s all I can say. They are doing real well. It is good to see how far Clemson has grown with the facilities and with the championships. Coach Swinney stuck to the plan. He kept chopping wood and chopping wood, and now look. I’m proud of him. The guys that doubted him when he first came in … now look at him. They are eating crow now. It is good to see him doing what he is doing.”
Williams believes this year’s defense has a shot at being the best because of the defensive line and because of one other factor … they have Brent Venables as their defensive coordinator.
“You have Christian, and then Big Dex. He is a specimen,” Williams said. “Who has seen a guy that big, stronger and agile? Then you have the end, Cli, he wears my number and is doing it proud. Then you have Albert (Huggins) coming along and then Kendall (Joseph).
“They are stacked everywhere, just like we were. Coach V, he knows it. He does not give too much praise until the end of the season, but he’ll be like ‘I told ya’ll.’ But he never lets us known how good we can be and I love him for that.
“He never wants to get you complacent. He will keep you right there and will let you be. Just give it your all. I love Coach V. He really taught me how to work. Don’t ever take it easy. You have to go day-to-day and give it your all.”