Pickney, Williams and Kelly are ready to fill some pretty big shoes at defensive tackle
With spring practice just a few weeks away, most of the questions for the 2019 football season at Clemson will center around the Tigers’ new defensive line.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have to replace all four defensive linemen and not just any set of defensive linemen, but the best unit in Clemson football history and possibly the best front four in the history of college football.
Clelin Ferrell became just the second player in Clemson history to be named First-Team All-American two years in a row by the Associated Press. Christian Wilkins became just the fifth player in school history to earn unanimous All-American honors.
Austin Bryant was a First-Team All-American in 2017 and Dexter Lawrence was a First-Team All-American in 2018.
Those are big shoes to fill, but Clemson defensive tackles coach Todd Bates likes the guys he has in place to fill those shoes this coming season.
Nyles Pinckney, Jordan Williams, Xavier Kelly and Darnell Jefferies will come into the spring with the task of trying to replace Wilkins, Lawrence and Albert Huggins at defensive tackle.
“You are always trying to get better. What matters is that you are a star in whatever role you have. You try to be a star in whatever role you have on the team,” Bates said to The Clemson Insider. “That may be that you never get into a game, but you are bringing the juice on the sideline. That may be that you are a short yardage guy and you do what you do.
“You perform that role to hundred percent of your ability, or you may be a third down pass rusher. Whatever it is, be a star in your role. That is what I always encourage them to do. If you do that, when your role increases, you will be ready for it.”
Pinckney, Williams and Kelly had bigger roles than being a cheerleader last year, but like Bates said they took advantage of their opportunities when they got them. Now they’re ready to step and try to be the leaders up front.
“A lot of guys are moving on. They will be going on to the NFL and things like that,” Bates said. “I am encouraged by the way these guys come to work. They have a willingness to learn and they want to be coached, so I am encouraged by those young guys.
“It is time for (Kelly’s) opportunity because when you come in and you are a basketball guy and you were raw, it is all about the reps. We just have not been able to get him the reps. Now everybody will be out of his way and he will have a chance to shine.”
“You never really know until the guy gets the reps. That is what it is all about is repetition,” he continued. “You want to be able to see them execute. The road to execution is paved by repetition. You want guys to have opportunities to get in there and do that. They are going to have all that they want during the spring.”
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