Though Clemson led the nation in sacks and was second in tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2020, it did not seem as if the defensive line was as dominant as it has been in year’s past.
“We were an inconsistent bunch last year for sure,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Whether it be guys that were available to play, inexperience, depth or whatever it was. But man, I love that group.”
There is a reason for Swinney to love them. As inexperienced as they were, and as inconsistent as they were, the Tigers still led the ACC in total defense last year. They ranked second at stopping the run and was second in scoring defense.
The defensive line, by the way, was second in yards per rush allowed.
Despite all the things Swinney mentioned above, they were still very productive, which bodes well for the Tigers in 2021 and on into the future.
“It is kind of like us at safety. We took a few bumps and bruises along the way, but Brian Bresee is so much better than he was at any point last year. Myles Murphy the same,” Swinney said. “Two freshmen that really played well for us last year as true freshmen. People don’t understand how hard that is to do. And so, it is just going to make them better. And they are better.”
Bresee was the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and was a First-Team All-ACC performer, while Murphy also earned postseason All-ACC honors and joined Bresee as a Freshman All-American.
Besides Bresee and Murphy, the Tigers will also welcome back K.J. Henry, Justin Mascoll and Xavier Thomas at defensive end, while 2019 All-ACC defensive tackle Tyler Davis is back after suffering through multiple injuries in 2020.
“K.J. did a lot of good things last year, and we are getting him back and healthy. Mascoll, his experience he got last year, my goodness that is going to pay huge dividends for him,” Swinney said. “Ruke (Orhorhoro) is a guy that I think can be a great player here.
“Tyler Davis, man, going into his junior year, he has the knowledge and the experience. I am excited about what I have seen out of Darnell (Jefferies). We are just developing those young guys.”
Those young guys are freshman Payton Page at defensive tackle and Cade Denhoff at defensive end, as well as redshirt freshman Tre Williams at defensive tackle. Swinney also mentioned redshirt sophomore Greg Williams at defensive end.
“I love what I have seen out of Denhoff, Greg Williams and his development. Xavier, getting him back, and is really locked in on what he needs to do. It is just a really good group of guys,” Swinney said. “I just think we have a chance, if we stay healthy, to have the type of group we have had around here and what we have come to be accustomed too.”
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