By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
During his long coaching career, Clemson defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks has seen marquee players leave his system and go into the National Football League. Those players are natural leaders who demand the vast majority of snaps and are difficult to replace at times when they need to rest.
The group of tackles in Brooks’ position meeting this year does not include any of those types of players, but the tenured defensive assistant says he kind of likes it that way.
“It is (better),” he said. “There’s no doubt. The best football teams I’ve had were like that.”
This time last year, Brooks was apprehensive by the crew he would need to assemble by the start of the season—a group he referred to as “a bunch of guys in diapers”. Every single player who played a snap at defensive tackle last season returns in 2013, which Brooks says is a sign of things to come.
Brooks says the depth chart is up for discussion on a daily basis, but he specifically mentioned Grady Jarrett as the most consistent member of the bunch and the one most likely to start if the season began now. He says there are four other guys who could conceivably be in the mix from game to game—Josh Watson, Deshawn Williams, D.J. Reader, and Carlos Watkins.
The opinions Brooks has formed are largely based on observations from last fall and spring practice. He acknowledged there are some ways in which offseason workouts could adjust his thinking, but he cannot be sure until he gets those evaluations and sees how the summer work manifests itself on the practice field.
“It’s all about what they do in this offseason with (Strength and Conditioning Coach) Joey Batson because I’m going to sit down and listen to his whole evaluation of this summer,” he said. “Then we’re going to go to practice.”
Each of the five players Brooks will rely on this season has significant playing experience from the 2012 season. He says being in the second year of Brent Venables’ defensive scheme is helpful, as is knowing how to work well with one another.
But Brooks also tells a cautionary tale, saying experience does not necessarily lead to success in all cases.
“Just because they’ve played in games, because they’re experienced, that doesn’t guarantee you anything,” he said. “It just gives you a chance. But you can sleep a little better at night knowing that a guy has been in a game.”
Coming from a high school background, Brooks sees himself as a molder of young men. In some ways, he is right in his element with this group of players at defensive tackle.
He has made a mark on them already, which has allowed them to be productive on the field. Given the confidence they inspired last season, Brooks can continue to teach on the fly while maintaining faith in his unit.
“It’s my job to teach these young people to play,” he said. “We can teach toughness, but they’ve got to give great effort.”
If Brooks has his way, the players will have no choice but to give maximum effort. The competition from their brethren will be too strong to take any off days.