Potentially, 2021 could be Clemson’s best defense

Potentially, 2021 could be Clemson’s best defense

Football

Potentially, 2021 could be Clemson’s best defense

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With Nolan Turner’s decision to return to Clemson for one more season, it means all 11 starters from the 2020 football season will be back for 2021. At least in the modern era of Clemson Football, never has all 11 starters from a unit returned to play the following season.

And keep in mind, it is not like these 11 starters return from a defense that was just okay or was a bad defense. No, they return from a defense that led the nation in sacks and led the ACC in total defense.

These are 11 starters that helped the Tigers finish No. 2 nationally in tackles for loss. These are 11 starters from a defense that ranked ninth nationally in interceptions.

These are 11 starters that allowed Clemson to finish second in the ACC in scoring defense, rushing defense, and passing defense. These are 11 starters that helped Clemson lead the ACC in fewest number of rushing touchdowns allowed.

This is a Clemson defense that returns young playmakers everywhere, mixed in with enough veteran leadership that means the Tigers are only going to be better in 2021.

Another thing to keep in mind. Clemson will also return an additional 10 players from last season that started at least one game due to injuries. Throw in the fact defensive coordinator Brent Venables is one of the best play callers in college football, and all of sudden the Tigers have the making of a defense that potentially could rival the 2018 defense, which led the nation in scoring defense, sacks, and tackles for loss.

Clemson played a lot of freshmen in 2020 and by the end of the year, they really started to come along. Defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and defensive end Myles Murphy dominated opponents all year, while other freshmen such as Malcolm Greene and Trent Simpson came on strong at the tail end of the season.

Because of the pandemic and significant injuries throughout the year, a lot of young players, especially freshmen were forced into starting roles, which led to a large learning curve for the Tigers, but at the same time showed how much potential the Clemson defense has.

Of those playing last year, few played as well as Greene and Simpson did. Both were all over the field in the Tigers’ win over Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game. Greene was playing more of true nickel position, as well as an extra defensive back when the Tigers’ show dime looks.  Simpson has helped veteran backer Mike Jones at the strongside position all year and even started over Jones in the Sugar Bowl.

“Those guys (have played) 10 games, your whole season. You’re ready to go,” said linebacker James Skalski, who like Turner decided on Jan. 7 to return for one more season thanks to the NCAA rule allowing student-athletes another year of eligibility from the 2020-’21 academic year due to COVID-19. “Trent is extremely talented. Malcolm, that guy practices so hard. That guy celebrates a play in practice and in scout work. He practices so hard it is like he’s in a game. And it shows up on game day, it shows up.

“I love watching Malcolm and the other guys work and it’s been nice seeing them kind of learn how to study the game. A lot of the older guys help them through that process.”

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