The wait to return to the field for one of the old heads on Clemson’s defense is almost over.
Nolan Turner is set to make his season debut Saturday when the Tigers begin ACC play against Georgia Tech at Memorial Stadium, nearly nine months to the day after the veteran safety announced he would be returning to Clemson for a sixth season. It would’ve been sooner had he not sustained an injury that limited him during the latter part of fall camp, which included missing all of the Tigers’ scrimmages.
Turner traveled with the team to Charlotte for Clemson’s opener against Georgia but watched from the sideline in street clothes. He was also held out against South Carolina State last week to give him more time to heal up for this week’s game.
“We’re super excited to get him back, and Nolan is excited to go play,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Mentally he’s incredibly sharp, but he missed the scrimmages and obviously hasn’t played the first couple of weeks. But he’s played about 2,300 snaps in his career, so I think it will come back to him pretty quick.”
Turner’s actual snap count isn’t quite that high, but it’s still the most of any defensive player on the Tigers’ roster. Turner had 1,537 career snaps to his name over 55 games entering the season (fellow sixth-year senior James Skalski was next closest at 1,222 snaps). In terms of production, Clemson will get 190 career tackles, 17 pass breakups and six interceptions returning to the back end of its defense.
He didn’t let his combination of vast experience and extensive knowledge of Brent Venables’ defense go to waste while he was unavailable. In fact, Swinney credited Turner’s tutelage as a big reason why Andrew Mukuba has been able to make enough progress since arriving on campus in January to put himself in position to start as a true freshman, something Mukuba has done alongside fellow safety Jalyn Phillips for the first two games.
“This shows you how smart (Mukuba) is. He went and got to know Nolan Turner quick,” Swinney said. “And, man, he spent tons of time with Nolan. Players can teach each other as much as they want, and Mukuba couldn’t get enough. Nolan has been an incredible asset and teacher for all of those guys.”
Now Turner, who started all but one game last season, will be back at his usual free safety spot alongside Mukuba, who’s got eight tackles and two pass breakups so far at strong safety. His return also boosts the depth at the position with Lannden Zanders already lost for the season to a shoulder injury.
For a Clemson defense that already ranks in the top 12 nationally in points and yards allowed, it’s a case of the rich getting richer.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!