There is a lot of concern about Clemson’s defensive line and deservedly so.
The Tigers will have to replace all four starters up front, plus two reserve players on a unit that might be the best assembled defensive front in the history of college football. Defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, along with defensive end Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, all garnered first-team All-American honors at some point in their careers.
So, replacing those four will not be easy. It also does not help that Clemson lost reserve tackle Albert Huggins and reserve defensive end Chris Register to graduation. That is a lot of experience to replace in one season.
But Brent Venables can’t think about what he has lost. Instead he has to focus on what he has. And though the Tigers will be young on the front four this year, Clemson’s defensive coordinator likes the talent he has to work with.
“Many of those guys, especially Ruck (Orhorhoro) and (Etinosa Reuben), the first time ever they had put their hand in the dirt as a defensive tackle was this spring,” he said. “They were defensive ends and only played a couple of years in high school even up to then.
“But they are furious competitors, easy to coach, really intelligent. I’m going with Logan Cash as well and Tyler Davis. They are very similar in regards to their work ethic and film study.”
The way those four freshmen came on, plus the fact the Tigers will get Nyles Pinckney (pectoral muscle) and Jordan Williams (knee) back from injury in the interior, gives Venables comfort they will be okay on the defensive front.
Cash, of course, joins Xavier Thomas, Justin Foster, K.J. Henry, Logan Rudolph and Justin Mascoll at defensive end, while Xavier Kelly and Darnell Jefferies will be in the rotation at defensive tackle.
“Usually there is a wall all freshmen will hit. And I’m not saying they did not have a tough moment (this spring), but that wall, a lot of times, you have to talk them off the ledge and that could not have been further from the truth with these guys,” Venables said about his four freshmen up front. “They are all very tough minded and just great competitors and have a sense of humility.
“They know there is a lot of work to do, but they have taken to coaching well and have a great deal of pride. So, I am excited about those intangibles more than anything else I saw on the field.”