By Will Vandervort
When he went in for his one-on-one with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney earlier this year, something happened that Corey Crawford was not expecting.
“Coach Swinney challenged me, and what he told me was personal,” the Clemson defensive end said.
Whatever Swinney told Crawford it struck a chord as the 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior did take it personally.
“This whole summer, it was me focusing on getting better so I could be a bigger factor on this defense,” he said. “I’m going to take it personal like that and give (him) my best this year.”
If Crawford does turn his game up another notch that can be good news for a Clemson defensive line that was already showing drastic improvements before the 2012 season came to a close. Of all the guys that plays defensive end right now, Crawford has the skills that it takes to be a dominant player.
First of all, he has the size and strength to play the strong side end, while also possessing rare speed for a guy his size, which allows him to play the right side end position as well.
“Corey has a great upside. He is probably the most versatile guy we have,” Clemson defensive ends coach Mario Hobby said.
Crawford has shown he can be a dominant defensive end if he wants to. He dominated the Virginia Tech offensive line last year, recording a career-high eight tackles, including a tackle for loss and two quarterback pressures. He had six tackles against NC State and recorded a sack against South Carolina. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown against Maryland.
But the problem with Crawford has been his inconsistencies. Though he showed promise in the games mentioned above, there were other games where he made just one or two tackles, and in one case, did not make a tackle at all. To top it off, the sack against the Gamecocks is the only one in his career – a career that spans 27 games and 13 starts.
“I have to be more of a pass rusher,” he said. “I have been playing for two years now, and I have only recorded one sack. The sacks have to come up, not just for me, but for my team. My team needs me so I have to get my sacks up.”
Crawford says his goal this year is to record at least eight sacks. Hobby believes it something he can do. He believes the light has come on for Crawford and it reminds of another Clemson standout that played defensive end and ended up in the NFL.
“He has his body in great shape,” Hobby said. “I look at Corey, because of his physical size, and he is more of a Phillip Merlin. He was a big guy like that that took some time to develop, too, but once he took off, he took off.”
As the only returning starter at defensive end, the Tigers will need Crawford to take off as well as he automatically became the new leader of the group.
“I guess you can say that with me being the oldest dog in the group everybody is looking up to me and expects me to be a leader or whatnot,” Crawford said. “I’m taking on that role as good as I can.”
Hobby laughs when he talks about how the other players in the meeting room look up to Crawford, especially when it is just a simple question like, “Where are we going to eat?”
“If I ask a question Corey usually answers,” Hobby said. “If I want to get the group in on something, they all look at him. ‘What do you think Corey?’
“I don’t think he has a choice but to be the leader because they are all looking at him right now. If these guys want to go out to dinner, they look at Corey. ‘When and where are we going?’ Corey can lead, coming from his background he has been in this role before.”
Crawford says Hobby challenged him to speak up and to be more vocal in the spring, a role he admits he had to get used to after playing behind Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch the last two years.
“Now that I’m the older dude, it’s my turn,” Crawford said.
Hobby has liked what he has seen thus far from his veteran player.
“I think he is kind of taking a hold of it now because he is a junior and is the older guy,” the Clemson coach said. “Can you believe it? We are talking about how Corey Crawford now as one of the older guys. He was a freshman two years ago, but he is one of the older guys in the meeting room right now which is a good thing.”