The last time Dabo Swinney had some vacancies on his coaching staff, he didn’t have any shortage of suitors.
Discussing the departure of longtime coordinators Brent Venables and Tony Elliott last month, Swinney said he had “absolutely incredible interest” from people interested in those jobs, understandable considering the success the Tigers have had in recent years. But Swinney said he decided to promote Brandon Streeter and Wesley Goodwin to the roles within 30 seconds of those jobs coming open and didn’t formally interview any external candidates.
“But it’s been cool, too, because I’ve been able to communicate with a lot people,” Swinney said then. “Been good to catch up with some folks. Had some good conversations.”
Clemson’s latest vacancy should be just as appealing.
Less than a week removed from the Tigers’ Cheez-It Bowl win over Iowa State, Todd Bates has decided to jump ship. Bates has served as Clemson’s defensive tackles coach since joining Swinney’s staff in 2017, but he’ll join Venables in Oklahoma, where he’s also expected to take on co-coordinator duties.
But whether Swinney decides to promote from within or change things up and make an outside hire, whoever is next to oversee the interior of Clemson’s defensive line will take over not only a talented position but one of the deepest on the roster heading into the offseason.
Clemson’s defense was as good as it’s ever been under Venables this season, finishing second nationally in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. To put the Tigers’ performance into even more perspective, particularly up front, Clemson ranked second in the ACC in sacks (3.23 per game) and 14th nationally in tackles for loss (7.1) despite playing most of the season without the best of the bunch on the interior.
Bryan Bresee, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit coming out of Damascus (Maryland) High during the 2020 recruiting cycle, only played four games of his sophomore season after tearing his ACL against North Carolina State back in September. Including him, Clemson is in line to return its top seven interior defensive linemen, five of which were four- or five-star recruits.
The only loss at the position – at least for now – is Darnell Jefferies, who has officially entered the transfer portal as a graduate student after getting passed up on the depth chart this season. Jefferies tallied just one tackle in six games in his final season in a Clemson uniform.
Clemson also went four games without another NFL Draft hopeful up front in Bresee’s running mate, Tyler Davis. The 6-foot-2, 300-pounder underwent bicep surgery just three games into the season but returned to play the final seven, further solidifying the middle of a defense that allowed just 96.3 rushing yards per game, good for seventh-fewest in the FBS.
Davis will be back next season as will Ruke Orhorhoro, who thrived in Bresee’s absence. Orhorhoro moved into the starting lineup after Bresee’s injury and finished with 36 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The attrition also created more opportunities for younger players like Etinosa Reuben and Tre Williams, who turned in their most significant contributions at Clemson to this point. The duo combined for 24 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
True freshman Payton Page, a former top-100 recruit, finished out the regular rotation on the interior, appearing in 12 games. The biggest body among the group, the 6-4, 335-pounder had two tackles in the bowl win. There’s also redshirt freshman DeMonte Capehart, who would’ve been a bigger part of the rotation if not for a knee injury that slowed him for most of the season.
Clemson hasn’t signed anymore defensive linemen on the interior to its 2022 recruiting class and likely won’t given the numbers it already has at the position. Those already on the roster just need someone to continue coaching them, which shouldn’t be too hard to find.
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