Pick a player from the Clemson defense that was not embarrassed by the way they played in their Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State on Jan. 1.
You cannot do it.
“Against Ohio State we all got knocked on our butts all night long, and so that has been a real focus for Tyler [Davis]. If we are going to be good, let alone great, we have to play great in the middle of the defense, and it starts up front,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said this past spring.
Venables said Davis was not happy with the way he and his fellow defensive teammates played in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. But instead of dwelling on it, they instead went to work to make sure it does not happen against anyone this coming season.
Davis, along with the 2020 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in Bryan Bresee, bounced back this spring with dominating practices that had Venables and head coach Dabo Swinney raving about their performances.
“Coach [Todd] Bates did a great job of finding ways to get them better,” Venables said. “He identified in those things where we have to play quicker, we have to be more disruptive, we got to play more vertical, we have to play more violent, we have to improve our pass rush. We have to win more one-on-ones and put together a great plan to get those guys better.
“Tyler, he and Bryan, have really made great improvement. Bryan was a tremendous talent and at times really flashed and was really special. Then at other times, and he would be the first to tell you, he got humbled. He took it on the chin like a lot of young players. He is at one of the toughest positions for a young player to play at on the interior of the defensive line and I thought he had a great year.”
Bresee took it on the chin perhaps even more than he should due to the fact Davis missed five games last season, forcing the then freshman to take on more than he could chew at times.
Davis’ absence also hurt Davis. It slowed down his progression, as he was not allowed to have the kind of football season he and the Clemson coaches were hoping he could have.
“He got hurt early last year and came back. He got hurt in practice, again, and was not the same,” Venables said. “The other is Tyler is still a young player… I am really proud of the work he has put in and the self-awareness where he has to get better. He has put his hard hat on and has went to work every day going after it.”
Venables and the Tigers will see how much that hard work pays off when the Tigers’ play Georgia in the season-opener on Sept. 4 in Charlotte.
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