On Tuesday, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s College Football preview, while Clemson received a No. 1 ranking from the magazine.
The magazine highlighted the weight of the big three, Wilkins, Ferrell and Bryant, returning for their senior season saying they give the Tigers enough power for a preseason No. 1 ranking.
Most athletes jump for joy after seeing themselves on the cover of the premier sports publication, but Ferrell, Clemson’s junior defensive end, sneered at the mention of the cover following his post practice media availability Tuesday.
While Ferrell is thankful to be on the cover of the magazine he is ready to play games and prove his team’s worth on the field rather than boasting on past accomplishments.
“It brings a lot of hype and attention, it isn’t like I didn’t expect it so I can’t be annoyed by that, but I take it with a grain of salt,” he said. “I’m blessed that we have had success in past years and that people think highly of us. None of that matters on game day, we just want to go focus on ourselves.”
The past accomplishments of Clemson’s defense are impressive, last season they allowed just 13.6 points per game on the way to its third consecutive College Football Playoff appearance. That same defense returned its four All-American linemen and is poised to improve on its already impressive marks from 2017.
While the numbers from 2017 are impressive, Ferrell is right they don’t mean much of anything entering a new season, it’s just hype. Hype doesn’t win games and Ferrell is fully aware of that.
“Regardless of how talented you are the guys in front of you are trying to expose you. This year, because of all the hype, every team is going to give us their best shot. So we take the hype with a grain of salt,” Ferrell said.
In 2015, Clemson had seniors Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd striking fear into opposing quarterbacks. They were two of the best to play defensive at Clemson in one year, but Ferrell has learned his lesson from those two and knows the Tigers need depth to go all the way in 2018.
“We like to look back at Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson. They played eighty snaps a game and by the time they were in the national championship game versus Alabama they were beat up,” said Ferrell. “They fought through all kinds of injuries just to get to game day and all kinds of treatment.”
The Tigers have no shortage of depth on the defensive front with backups like veterans Chris Register and Albert Huggins as well as a slew of freshman like Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry who are poised to make a big splash in their first year.
Ferrell believes Clemson’s depth rivals that of the 2014 defense who finished No. 1 in total defense (260.8 ypg), pass efficiency defense (98.3), first downs allowed (185), third down conversion percentage (27.4 percent) and tackles for loss (10.1 per game). Their depth allowed constant rotation keeping everybody fresh and made a big difference down the stretch.
“‘We too deep’ has always been the motto and that’s the standard here. There is never a drop-off. We feel like everybody behind us can perform and they are talented.”