There is a reason why Clemson’s defense has owned the first half of fall camp. Each player on the unit has a certain expectation to maintain.
That expectation has allowed the Tigers to become one of the best units in the country the previous four seasons and this year the plan is to be better than last season’s No. 8 national ranking. In 2016, Clemson led the ACC in yards allowed and in scoring defense, while also leading the league in total tackles for loss and ranking second in sacks.
“We have a tight chemistry,” junior linebacker Kendall Joseph said. “We demand a lot from each other. The coaches had to get on to us here and there, but a lot of it has come from one another when you have teammates that hold each other accountable. We tend to take pride in our defense. We have had a history lately of having a really good defense and we want to continue that.”
It’s the culture, which starts at the top with head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, that shapes a defense that year in and year out performs at a high level on the national stage.
The Tigers, who kick off the 2017 season on Sept. 2 against Kent State in Death Valley, return seven starters from a unit that allowed just 311.5 yards and 18.0 points per game a year ago. Both of those numbers ranked No. 8 and No. 10 nationally.
“Once you have established that culture and you have guys that are like Christian (Wilkins) and Clelin (Ferrell) that are your best players and who go hard each practice, it really establishes that culture and the young guys have no excuse,” Joseph said. “You know, it doesn’t happen overnight, but if you keep working and you keep getting guys together and getting them to push each other, great things can happen.”
That’s what is happening at linebacker where despite the loss of a big personality like All-American Ben Boulware, some say the Tigers’ can be even better there this season. So far in camp, coaches have been praising the efforts of young players like Tre Lamar, Chad Smith and Shaq Smith. Veterans like Joseph and strong side linebacker Dorian O’Daniel have also received their fair share of respect in camp.
Swinney has come out and said this year’s group of linebackers is the best he has ever had as a head coach, while Venables said they are a deep unit that has a lot of quality talent.
“It’s definitely different without (Boulware) and we miss him, but we know that he’s doing great things up in Charlotte,” Joseph said. “We know that it’s the next man up. There are a lot of personalities in a lot of different guys.
“I think the linebacker group has one of the greatest chemistries, especially this year, we just respect each other and the work ethic we have between each guy, it’s amazing. So we take great pride in our group and we have the leaders we need to have and we are just working.”
Working to maintain that standard that has been set by those that came before them. After all, they have a certain expectation to maintain.
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