This time last year, Clemson did not know what it had at defensive end. The coaches knew they had talented players, but they also knew they were raw.
Though they were young, they put them out there and coached them up the best they could. But in the end, the coaches knew it was going to take playing a whole season and gaining that experience before guys like Xavier Thomas, Justin Foster, K.J. Henry, and Justin Mascoll learned how to become better football players.
“I wanted to see all of those guys who played last year to come back in a different place [this spring]. And they did,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said recently. “All of those guys, from Foster to Xavier Thomas, K.J., Mascoll, those four guys there … they look the part now.”
By looking the part, Clemson’s defensive front should be vastly improved in 2020. No defensive end recorded five sacks last year. Foster led the way with 4.5, while also working as the only end to have 10 or more tackles for loss. He finished the year with 10.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“Last year, we were running those guys out there and we were kind of hoping that we could develop them and put a good group together because it was more about talent,” Swinney said. “Now, it is not just talent. We have the combination of talent and knowledge and work ethic and more commitment to a little better chemistry. And, again, knowledge and understanding.”
Swinney believes gaining that knowledge and understanding will lead to a more complete season from his four veteran defensive ends, which in turn will help younger players such as Greg Williams and Myles Murphy.
“They got exposed a little bit last year by better players, and now they know what they have to do to be great players,” Clemson’s head coach said.
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