This time last year, everyone was wondering how Clemson was going to replace guys like Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Albert Huggins at defensive tackle.
It did it by recruiting guys like Tyler Davis in the 2019 class and 2020 signees Bryan Bresee and Demonte Capehart. Throw in veteran players like Nyles Pinckney, Jordan Williams, Darnell Jefferies and Ruke Orhorhoro, along with redshirt freshmen Tayquon Johnson and Etinosa Reuben and Clemson’s defensive tackles are as deep and as talent as anyone’s in college football.
Position coach Todd Bates likes where Johnson and 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.”
Here is a look at what the Clemson depth chart could look like at the defensive tackle positions going into spring practice. Clemson starts spring practice on Feb. 26.
Tyler Davis, So., 6-2, 295: Davis made an immediate impact as a freshman last season. He became the first true freshman to start at defensive tackle since 1974 and set a school record for starts by a freshman at defensive tackle with 13. In all, Davis was charged with 51 tackles, including 9.0 behind the line, 5.5 sacks, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He played in all 15 games for the Tigers. He earned second-team All-ACC honors.
Nyles Pinckney, *Sr., 6-1, 295: Pinckney could miss time in the spring as he recovers from a bad ankle sprain which prevented him from playing in the national championship game. The graduated student decided to return to Clemson instead of going pro. Pinckney earned third-team All-ACC honors after he totaled 27 tackles in 2019. He had four tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. He played in 14 games and started 13 for the Tigers. He has played in 43 games during his career and has tallied 71 tackles.
Jordan Williams, *Jr., 6-4, 310: Williams played in 15 games last year, while recording 31 tackles and 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He also had 2.5 sacks and broke up two passes from his defensive tackle position. Williams has played in 27 games in his career and as 44 tackles. Had a career-high five tackles against Louisville and one of his 2.5 sacks was an 8-yard loss against South Carolina.
Darnell Jefferies, *So., 6-2, 280: Last year, Jefferies played in all 15 games, while being credited with 14 tackles, including one for loss and a half sack. His best game came against Boston College, when he posted a career-high three tackles in the Tigers 59-7 victory at Death Valley.
Ruke Orhorhoro, So., 6-4, 285: Orhorhoro played in 10 games last years a true freshman. He recorded five tackles. He had 1.5 tackles for loss, including half-sack on 84 snaps.
Tayquon Johnson, *Fr., 6-2, 320: Johnson played in three games before redshirting last season. Coming out of high school, he was considered the 22nd best defensive tackle in the nation by ESPN and the 29th by Rivals. In his last two seasons in high school, the Maryland native 184 tackles, 44 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.
Etinosa Reuben, *Fr., 6-3, 285: 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. He played in three games last season before redshirting.
Bryan Bresee, Fr., 6-5, 290: Bresee is big, strong and freakishly athletic for his size. Bresee has clocked a 4.13-second shuttle run and recorded a 32-inch vertical jump. Bates told TCI that he has never been around a player who came in more physically ready to play than Bresee, while head coach Dabo Swinney compared Bresee to Christian Wilkins, but says he is stronger, more heavy-handed and more violent. Bresee has all the necessary tools to play on the edge or in the interior of the defensive line.
Demonte Capehart, Fr., 6-5, 290: Capehart has a fast first step and plays with strong hands. He can beat opposing offensive linemen with his power and push, or he can use his quickness and array of pass-rush moves to get past a blocker. Because of his tools and athleticism, Capehart has the ability to potentially play on the edge as well in a 3-4 scheme. Being an early enrollee should help expedite his development, and he was already able to practice with Clemson for a couple days during bowl prep.
–Gavin Oliver contributed to this story
Spring practice is just around the corner. Get your official Clemson gear right here!