Though Justin Foster would not say this year’s defensive line can be as good as Clemson’s 2018 group, he said there is one area in which they do have an edge.
The redshirt junior, who is returning to football after missing all of last year due to complications from COVID-19, says this year’s group of defensive ends are deeper than they were during the Tigers’ national championship run three years ago.
“I feel like we have more depth than them overall,” he said.
Foster should know. He was a sophomore on the 2018 team, playing in all 15 games while recording 17 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks. Fellow defensive ends K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll were also on that 2018 team, but they redshirted and played in a combined five games.
Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, both who are now in the NFL, played the majority of the snaps in 2018. Foster says there will not be just two guys taking most of the snaps this year.
“The depth (is the difference). We can rotate guys and there is no drop off,” he said.
With Foster, along with Xavier Thomas, back, Clemson is as deep as it ever has been at defensive end. The Tigers also return preseason All-ACC defensive end Myles Murphy, Mascoll and Henry, both of whom shared starting duties in 2020.
“We can rotate X, me, K.J., Mascoll and Myles. There is a whole bunch of us that we just keep rotating in and out,” Foster said.
Foster and Thomas were both preseason All-ACC candidates in 2020 before COVID-19 derailed their seasons and put their careers on hold. Now they are back and ready to roll again, along with Kevin Swint, who moved over from linebacker to defensive end in the spring.
“There are a lot of talented guys in the room, and we just rotate on every play,” Foster said. “At the end of the day, two guys are going to run out there. I don’t really pay attention to it. I let the coaches do their job, and at the end of the day, we will all play and we will have a good time.”