Following the departures of All-American defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins to the NFL after the 2018 season, Clemson needed someone to step up and be an anchor in the middle of its defensive front.
As it turned out, true freshman Tyler Davis was the guy whom the Tigers leaned most heavily on and relied upon for production on the interior D-line throughout the 2019 season. The 6-foot-2, 295-pounder wasted no time making an immediate impact, earning the starting role in his first career game – becoming the first true freshman D-tackle to start a season opener for Clemson since 1974 – and finished the campaign as a second-team All-ACC selection. He played in all 15 games, starting 13 of them, the most by a true freshman defensive lineman in school history.
Davis was tied for seventh on Clemson’s defense with 51 total tackles and ranked fourth with nine tackles for loss. The former four-star prospect also posted 5.5 sacks, good for second on the team behind Isaiah Simmons’ eight, while adding six quarterback pressures, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
Looking ahead to the 2020 season, if Davis can at least replicate his performance from 2019, defensive coordinator Brent Venables will be happy.
“If he played every bit as good as he played last year, that’s what you want,” Venables said. “He played outstanding. As consistent of a football player as we had on our defense last year. Made all the plays he was supposed to make. Was just a great example in how you work, how you prepare. Mature beyond his years. Ultra-physical.”
After Simmons, Davis was arguably the best player on Clemson’s defense, which finished the season ranked third nationally in scoring defense (13.5 points per game allowed) and sixth in total defense (288.3 yards per game allowed).
But as good as Davis was in year one, there are still things he can work on going into next season, including becoming more vocal as a leader.
“We want him to develop more as a pass rusher, win more one-on-ones and become a leader,” Venables said. “He’s a quiet guy by nature, and that’s fine as well, but get him to come out of his shell a little bit.”
There is always the threat of the proverbial sophomore slump, but Venables does not expect any decline or drop-off from Davis during his second year.
“Don’t have the sophomore slump if there is such a thing, and he won’t,” Venables said. “I can say that without reservation. He’s just very serious about his business, and he’s always ready to go.”
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