After freshman Myles Murphy emerged as a starter, and with the return of Xavier Thomas at defensive end, redshirt sophomores K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll have been swapping starts for a good portion of the season.
As No. 4 Clemson gets set for Saturday’s game at Florida State, it would appear Mascoll has taken the lead in the competition after starting over Henry in each of the last three games. So far this year, Mascoll has started seven games to Henry’s five.
But head coach Dabo Swinney says that does not matter in the grand scheme of things, because both players are playing about the same number of snaps in each game. Though he has started two less games, Henry has played 274 snaps to Mascoll’s 261.
“That is kind of coin toss every week,” Swinney said. “I trust both of those guys. Both of those guys are starters in my eyes. Who runs out there first, I don’t really care. Both are going to play every week and right about the same.
“It could change week-to-week, but both of those guys are starters in my eyes.”
The competition has allowed both defensive ends to be extremely productive. Henry has 21 tackles so far this season, including 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Mascoll has 23 tackles, 4.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and two sacks.
They both have four quarterback pressures, as well, and Henry has also recovered a fumble. The two have helped the Tigers rank second in the nation in sacks (30) and in third tackles for loss (73.0).
So, for Swinney, it is not about who starts and does not start. It is about what they are doing with their opportunities when they get them. And right now, Henry and Mascoll are both taking advantage of their opportunities.
“That is not something that I really pay that much attention to at that position with those two guys because I know both of them are going to be ready,” Swinney said. “Both of them are dependable. Both of them are committed and both of them are going to play a lot. I just kind of lead that up to (defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall).”
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