This time last year, the defensive tackle position was a question mark for Clemson after the departures of Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Albert Huggins following the 2018 national championship season.
Fast forward to the present, and the Tigers have plenty of depth at defensive tackle heading into the 2020 season, especially with starter Nyles Pinckney announcing recently that he plans to return for his fifth and final season with Clemson.
Not only did the Tigers sign several defensive linemen in their 2020 class — including tackles Demonte Capehart and Tre Williams, and tackle/end Bryan Bresee – but they also have a couple of redshirt tackles who may be ready to help out next season.
Position coach Todd Bates likes where Tayquon Johnson and Etinosa Reuben are at following their first year at Clemson. Both players saw a lot of action on the scout team while redshirting, and each appeared in three games to get a little experience under their belts.
“They’ve made the most of their opportunity,” Bates told The Clemson Insider recently. “Coming in, getting an opportunity to imitate some of the best defensive linemen that we’re facing each week, they’ve done a great job with that, and that’s all you can do, man – you’ve got to maximize your opportunity. Whenever you get a little delay, and everybody wants to come in and play right away, everybody’s not ready for that. Some people need to gain strength and other people need just the mental part of it, to be a college athlete and get down pat what that means and what’s that about – what’s my schedule like, until you can handle it, and I think they’ve both done a great job of handling that.”
Reuben enrolled at Clemson last January, while Johnson joined the team last summer ahead of fall camp.
Reuben, a Kansas City, Missouri, native, played only three years of high school football but was named team Defensive Lineman of the Year at Park Hill South High School in each of his final two seasons, when he recorded a total of 117 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Johnson, meanwhile, was a very productive player over his final two seasons at Williamsport (Maryland) High School with 184 total tackles, 44 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.
After seeing Reuben and Johnson develop throughout last season, Bates believes they are poised to contribute for the Tigers in 2020.
“I do,” he said. “I’ve been able to work with them as well. That’s one of the benefits of your team earning the opportunity to play (in the national championship game) is that you get a few extra weeks of practice. At the end of those practices, we have little practices for those guys where they get to run through our stuff against our offense and show us that hey man, we’ve been studying, too, we’ve been doing what we do — look forward to coaching me in the spring.”
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