When looking at Clemson’s defensive line, obviously you will see Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence at defensive tackle and Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant at defensive end.
These are defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ four starters and they are the anchor of a Clemson defense that should be as good if not better than a unit that led the Atlantic Coast Conference in every major statistical category last season.
But, the talent on Clemson’s defensive front does not end with its four starters. Senior Albert Huggins is perhaps a starter anywhere else in the ACC at defensive tackle. So is redshirt sophomore Nyles Pinckney. Jordan Williams is a redshirt freshman that the coaches are very high on and Darnell Jefferies is a true freshman the coaching staff feels can provide depth right away.
“The depth up front is good … to be able to see Jordan Williams go play this year is huge,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “You got Huggins, Dexter and Christian inside and Albert is a guy where the light has come on for him. I think he is fixing to have a great year. I hope and pray he can stay healthy because I think he has a chance to really be the guy we all thought he could be.
“Sometimes it takes guys a little longer to learn than others. He was an end that had to learn how to play tackle. He was not as mature as he needed to be early on, but I think the light has come on for him. He is strong. Oh my Lord! He is one of the top two or three strongest kids on the team. That is a veteran group inside.”
Swinney says Pinckney is also ready to take the next step, and that he sees a totally different body language in the redshirt sophomore.
“He sees an opportunity,” the Clemson coach said. “I see Jordan Williams and the work that he has put in so he is going to be exciting to see.”
Then look at all that young talent at end. Sophomore Justin Foster, redshirt sophomore Xavier Kelly and freshman K.J. Henry will back Ferrell up, while redshirt freshman Logan Rudolph and freshman Xavier Thomas will back up Bryant.
Thomas was the No. 1 ranked defensive player in the country last year and Henry was No. 2. Both were top 5 players nationally in the 2018 recruiting class.
“It takes pressure off those guys like Cle and Austin,” Swinney said. “They don’t have to go play 60 snaps or go play 50 snaps because there is not going to be a Grand Canyon drop off in talent. There is going to be a drop off from some guys in experience, but not talent.”
Seniors Chris Register and Richard Yeargin will provide experience depth as well at defensive end.
“So that is exciting,” Swinney said. “Guys buy in and being selfless, saying, ‘Hey! This guy needs to play some.’ It is going to help me in the fourth quarter and it is going to help me as we go through the course of the season.
“Then it is going to allow us to develop our team and develop the key depth that I think we need to be the best version of us this year. So, yeah, I’m excited to see them.”
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