By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
One of the main reasons Dabo Swinney feels so good about his defense this coming fall is simple, his two defensive tackle positions are three deep.
“We are light years ahead on the defensive line than last year,” Clemson’s head coach said.
The Tigers return both starters at defensive tackle in Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson, while also returning DeShawn Williams, D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins – three guys who would be starters anywhere else in the ACC.
“We are all hungry,” Jarrett said. “It does not matter which one of us is out there. There isn’t a drop off and when we get our opportunities we are making the most of them.”
Because of Clemson’s depth along the defensive line, especially at the tackle positions, the Tigers ended 2012 with 27 sacks in the last six games, including six against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Clemson finished the year with 34 sacks overall, good enough for 20th nationally.
“We greatly improved and got better defensively because of it,” Swinney said. “Being able to pressure the quarterback is paramount if you are going to be good on defense. The pass rush is critical. I don’t care who you are in the secondary. You can’t cover guys all day.
“That is an area we really improved on last year. We really did it the second half of the season. We picked it up there this spring, too. I think our pass rush has looked really good.”
Below is a look at the depth chart at defensive tackle:
Grady Jarrett, 6-1, 290, Jr. – Listed on first team after another solid spring. Jarrett really came into his own at the end of the season as he emerged as one of the team’s best interior linemen. He recorded 51 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks. He started 11 games last season and had 11 quarterback pressures.
DeShawn Williams, 6-1, 285, Jr. – It’s hard to believe Williams is not a starter, which shows the kind of depth the Tigers have. Quietly, the junior totaled 50 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and nine quarterback pressures in 2012.
Carlos Watkins, 6-3, 300, So. – Started to come on late in the season and finished the year with 16 tackles and one tackle for loss. He had a career high five tackles in in 25 snaps against Duke.
Josh Watson, 6-4, 285, Jr. – He is listed as a starter coming out of the spring. He recorded 54 tackles in 2012 to lead all defensive linemen. He also had a team-high 12 quarterback pressures and caused one fumble and recovered a fumble.
D.J. Reader, 6-3, 335, So. – One of the reasons Watson had such as good season and spring was the emergence of Reader. The Greensboro, NC native had 40 tackles as a reserve player while playing in 13 games. Had a great spring despite missing a few practices because of baseball. He had four tackles for loss in one scrimmage.
Roderick Byers, 6-3, 275, So. – He played in five games last year and had a solid spring. The coaches believe he has a chance to be pretty salty, and allows them to keep a three-man rotation at both tackle positions.