By Heath Bradley.
TheClemsonInsider.com breaks down the keys to success for the 2012 defense. One of the keys for the defense will be building depth along the defensive line.
Three of the four starters from the defensive line in 2011 are no longer on campus. All three are currently on NFL rosters heading into training camp this summer. Both Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson were drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Andre Branch, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Brandon Thompson, and two other former Tigers also signed free agent contracts. Rennie Moore signed with the Texans and Kourtnei Brown with the 49ers.
This leaves Malliciah Goodman the lone returning starter. In his career, Goodman has appeared in 41 games, starting 15. In those 41 games he has recorded 122 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and five sacks. 2012 will be a big season for Goodman; he will be the leader of a young defensive line. He must also transform his game into becoming a better pass rusher. Goodman has worked hard this off-season to become a more explosive player in hopes of producing higher sack and tackle for loss numbers in 2012. Goodman will be relied on to lead a young unit vocally as well as on the field and his work over this off-season should prepare him well.
The other end position will be manned by sophomore Corey Crawford, Crawford shined at times as a true freshman in 2011. His size, speed, and strength are everything you look for at the bandit-end position. He appeared in all 14 games in 2011, recording 29 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and two pass breakups. His improvement this offseason will be huge for his impact in 2012. He has the potential to become a force for a program that has sent numerous defensive linemen to the NFL over recent years.
The interior line is where depth will be most needed in 2012. Entering the season the interior line has one career start as a whole. DeShawn Williams started versus Wake Forest as a true freshman late in 2011. Adding even less depth to the interior line, Tyler Shatley was moved to offensive line where the staff felt he could have a bigger impact. DeShawn Williams and Grady Jarrett are two players who could contend to start in the interior. Williams played 138 snaps in 2011, recording 20 tackles and two tackles for loss. Jarrett appeared in nine games for the Tigers in 2011, but a strong off-season and spring has him in the mix to start. Tavaris Barnes and Josh Watson are also in the fold; Barnes a redshirt sophomore has transformed his body from that of an end to a hybrid player such as Rennie Moore was for the Tigers in 2011. He will have the ability to help the Tigers stop the run but also provide a pass rush weapon. Josh Watson, also a redshirt sophomore, has the ideal frame and hopefully will provide quality depth to the line.
The interesting battle to see will be which true freshman redshirt, and which do not. The Tigers signed six players for the defensive front for the 2012 class. Five are enrolled or expected to enroll with Josh Brown instead attending prep school. Carlos Watkins and Shaq Lawson may have the upper hand to see early playing time and avoid a redshirt. The wildcard may be Martin Aiken, he may redshirt in hopes of adding size to potentially make the move to the interior. One that is expected to play is Kevin Dodd, who enrolled in the spring after playing the 2011 season at Hargrave Military. If the young lineman can show up and acclimate quickly into the scheme, adding quality depth, it would be a huge relief for the Clemson defense. If the young players struggle it could make things difficult early in the season. However, with the caliber of players that have and will enroll, we do not expect a struggle, we expect many of these players to make a positive impact in the depth of the defensive line in 2012.