Clemson’s depth, experience is vastly improved on the DL

Clemson’s depth, experience is vastly improved on the DL

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Clemson’s depth, experience is vastly improved on the DL

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When comparing last year’s depth chart heading into the 2019 season with what Clemson has this year, it’s easy to see there is not much of a drop off, or any at all, in terms of talent and potential production in 2020.

This fall, the Tigers return 11 combined starters on offense and defense, plus its starting kicker and punter from a year ago, along with plenty of talented and experienced depth. Again, they are in perfect position to win the ACC and contend for another berth in the College Football Playoff.

When the Tigers entered 2019, no one was expecting much from the defensive line. Clemson was replacing perhaps the greatest defensive line assembled in college football. It had lost All-Americans Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant, as well as reserve defensive tackle Albert Huggins. To add insult to injury, veteran players Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams missed the entire spring in 2019 with injuries.

By the time the season opened, true freshman Tyler Davis was starting in a three-man front as part of a scheme defensive coordinator Brent Venables created to emphasize the defense’s strengths at linebacker, with the versatile Isaiah Simmons, and in the secondary.

This year, with more experienced depth up front, as well the edition of a few more talented freshmen, Clemson’s defense will go back to its basic 4-3 look and will once again rely on its defensive front to create pressure.

Clemson’s defensive front will be vastly improved in 2020. No defensive end recorded five sacks last year. Justin 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,” Clemson head coach Dabo 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 says Foster, Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry, and Justin Mascoll learned how to become better football players last year and they’re ready to take the next step in their continued development.

“I wanted to see all of those guys who played last year to come back in a different place [this spring]. And they did,” Swinney said. “All of those guys, from Foster to Xavier Thomas, K.J., Mascoll, those four guys there … they look the part now.”

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.

The Tigers have replaced Wilkins and Lawrence with Davis last year, and this year added 2020 signees Bryan Bresee and Demonte Capehart. Throw in veteran players like Pinckney, Williams, Darnell Jefferies, to go along with sophomore Ruke Orhorhoro and redshirt freshman Etinosa Reuben and Clemson’s defensive tackles are as deep and as talent as anyone in college football.

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