Xavier Thomas is freakishly good. That is an understatement.
Not only is the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end strong, but he is also extremely athletic and fast. A lot of people talk about his decleating of Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey last year, but his most impressive play might have been his ability to pick up and cover Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams out of the backfield.
He ultimately was called for pass interference on the play, but the fact that he stayed with Williams, the SEC’s leading rusher in 2018, showed just how special of a player Thomas is.
“I didn’t think that was pass interference,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables explained with a smile after last year’s Texas A&M game.
As the Tigers get set for fall camp at the end of the month, Thomas has been working to prove he is a special player at defensive end. He knows he has big shoes to fill as tries to replace Clelin Ferrell, who has led Clemson the last two years in sacks and was the No. 4 overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft.
Thomas has spent the spring and the summer working on his technique, play recognition and getting stronger and faster.
“It’s about knowledge of the game and knowing what I am doing so I can be able to play faster,” he said.
Thomas will be one of four new starters on the defensive line. At defensive end, he is one of the more experienced players, despite the fact he is a sophomore.
But let’s be honest, he did not play like a true freshman during Clemson’s national championship run. As a reserve, he tallied 43 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss. Three and a half of which were sacks. He also had four quarterback pressures, broke up two passes and forced a fumble.
“I don’t want to be known as just a pass rush guy,” he said.
Thomas, of course, is preparing his body as a starter. He says he is eating smarter and is taking care of his body, preparing it for all the snaps he will take as a first-team defensive end.
At the same time, he is also helping a defensive front that will be fairly young this coming fall with the losses of Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.
“It is all about growth. That is what it has been about the whole spring,” he said. “We have been focused on growing as a D-Line and growing as a group. We are a pretty young group.
“We have no starters right now, so everyone is competing to get to that point.”
Thomas likes the group of new guys that have come in. He likes their energy and what they bring to the defense.
“We recruit good guys. We don’t have any selfish guys,” he said. “We recruit guys to come in and work and be a team player and do their job the best that they can.”
“They are very talented. It was just like when I came in,” Thomas continued. “You come in with a lot of talent, but then it is about getting really explosive and getting strong. You just have to work on your technique, just like we all are.”