Clelin Ferrell is tired of hearing about how great he and the rest of his fellow defensive linemen are. Even when his own teammate, offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt, was talking about them, he covered his ears so he did not have to hear it.
Clemson’s All-American defensive end tried to brush off question after question this past week as reporters during the 2018 ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte asked him about how great he thinks Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and himself can be this coming season.
Some in the media, and on ESPN, are already calling them the greatest defensive line to ever play the game, while others definitely say they are the best to ever play at Clemson.
“We’re very talented, but I hope I get asked this question at the end of the season,” Ferrell said. “That would be a better time to answer it.”
He has a point.
All the other teams the Tigers’ defensive line is being compared to have already cemented their legacies.
At Clemson the standard was set by the 1981 defensive line, which featured defensive end Bill Smith, left tackle Dan Benish, middle guards William Devane and William Perry, right tackle Jeff Bryant and bandit end Andy Headen. They recorded 44 sacks and a ton of tackles behind the line of scrimmage during an undefeated season that resulted in a national championship.
When the team needed a play, someone along the defensive front always came through, like in the North Carolina game that year. With the Tar Heels driving late in the fourth quarter for the winning score Smith darted through the line and forced the quarterback to throw the ball early and behind his intended target, which resulted in a backwards pass (fumble), which Bryant recovered to secure the 10-8 victory in Chapel Hill.
That season, Clemson’s defense recorded what is still a school record for forced turnovers with 41. In all, four players from that defensive front went on to play in the NFL.
The 1990 defensive front was just as dominant, recording 43 sacks. They too help the defense force a ton of turnovers and helped Clemson lead the nation in total yards allowed that season.
That year, Chester McGlockton, Rob Bodine, Vance Hammond and John Johnson were four of the best up front Clemson has ever had. The 1991 group of Brentson Buckner, Bodine, McGlockton, Ashley Sheppard and Wayne Simmons was also pretty talented and dominant.
Of course there is also the 2014 group of Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Corey Crawford. They were also ranked pretty high after they recorded 45 sacks and 131 tackles for loss while guiding the Tigers to a No. 1 national ranking in total yards allowed.
Their 131 tackles for loss and their 10.1 per game average both led the nation as well.
“Don’t tell Grady Jarrett they are not the best, he isn’t going to like that,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said smiling.
Though all four returning defensive linemen helped the Tigers lead the nation in sacks (46) last year, while recording 109 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, Ferrell says that does not guarantee them anything this season.
“We’re ready to just go out there and play and perform because that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I mean, people just keep asking us how good can we really be. I mean, I don’t know.”
In a few short weeks, everyone will find out.
“Basically, we are not trying to listen to the outside noise because, obviously, I know we’re a talented group. But we’re more so about the action, we want to walk the walk rather than just talk it,” Ferrell said.
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