Slowly, but surely, Xavier Thomas is making his way back.
The Clemson defensive end got in the game early against Georgia Tech Saturday in the top-ranked Tigers’ 73-7 victory over the Yellow Jackets. In all, the junior played 20 snaps, three less than starters K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll.
Thomas made his way back to the practice fields prior to the Virginia game on Oct. 3, and even started working with the scout team. He made his 2020 debut in the Miami game, playing very briefly at the end. However, this past Saturday, he played the most he has played all year in helping the Clemson defense limit Georgia Tech to 204 yards of offense.
“It was good to get X back out there,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during his Sunday meeting with the media. “He got about twenty snaps or something. It was really good to get him back out there and let him play himself back into football shape and rhythm.”
Thomas recorded just one tackle in the game but was credited with a half-tackle for loss on the play.
“He was solid. For a guy that has not played football, he got a few snaps last week, but he has only been back in practice for a little while,” Swinney said.
The Tigers’ defensive end missed the first part of the season after he contracted the coronavirus before he was set to return to Clemson in June. Thomas also developed strep throat over the summer.
The two illnesses prevented the All-ACC candidate from working out with his team, as he came into camp still trying to get his strength back and overweight. Clemson’s doctors thought it was best at the time to hold him out of fall camp, allowing himself to slowly get back to health and then football shape before returning to regular practice.
“He has had the least amount of true football work of anybody out there, so he has got to play himself in a little bit, but I thought he was solid,” Swinney said. “He got a little tired a couple of times on plays away from him.
“But he got in on a couple of plays. He is an easy guy to notice when he is in there. He has just a lot of natural ability. This guy has played a lot of football for us. He has explosive power, so it was really, really good. He has some rust on him, but it will not take him long. So, it was good.
Besides Thomas’ 20 snaps at defensive end, Swinney said Henry and Mascoll each had 23 snaps followed Myles Murphy’s 22, Reagan Upshaw’s 17 and Greg Williams’ nine.
“So, we got all of those guys in there, but it was really good to be able to get Xavier breathing heavy and playing himself back into football shape,” the Clemson coach said.
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