Let’s Talk D with Rev. O
Several years ago, Dabo Swinney was telling people that the best is yet to come. It seems he knew more than most of us… how much better can it get than to win a National Championship? Well, you win another!! So how much better will it get now? I personally thought 2019 was going to be a good year for Clemson football and would end with an invitation to the playoffs but maybe not a National Championship. Unfortunately, I was right.
Why did I feel this way? Because of the personnel turnover and lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball. Losing defensive line talent like Wilkens, Lawrence, Bryant and Ferrell along with backup DT Albert Huggins was sure to make a difference. The pressure those 5 put on opposing quarterbacks was game changing. Others had a chance to play as back-ups but the talent level was not the same.
So, what should we look for this coming season from the defensive front four? The starters from last year now have a year under their belt. Defensive Ends Justin Foster, KJ Henry and Xavier Thomas are back with experience as well as defensive tackles Jordan Williams, Tyler Davis and Darnell Jefferies but the real story here may be the incoming recruiting class! Topping that list is 5-star DT recruit and #1 recruit in the nation Bryan Bresee (6’5”, 290 lbs). This guy is a beast with a motor that doesn’t stop. Expect him to see a lot of playing time this year and really push the veterans for a starting spot at DT.
Along with Bryan Bresee is 5-star DE recruit Myles Murphy (6’5”, lbs). Expect him to contribute immediately too. 4-star DT recruit Tre Williams (6’2”, 306 lbs) may also see good playing time. I think the defensive line this year will be much more effective than it was last year and the depth will be there -- unlike last year. Last year Coach Venables had to use the defensive backfield a lot to get pressure on the quarterback. This year I think it will be different. He will still use the defensive backfield to pressure the quarterback but not because he has too but because he can.
The defensive backfield is experienced and in good shape. Starters Derion Kendrick (cornerback) and Nolan Turner (safety) are back while LeAnthony Williams, Mario Goodrich and Sheridan Jones saw plenty of playing time as back-ups. Incoming 4-star CB freshmen Fred Davis and Malcolm Greene should add some depth to the backfield too. The linebackers may be the question that needs to be answered. James Skalski is the only returner. Baylon Spector, Jake Venables and Mike Jones, Jr are the other candidates to start at linebacker. They were all the number one back-ups to the starters so they got plenty of playing time in 2019. And then there is 5-star recruit Trenton Simpson. It will be fun to watch how this plays out.
As a defense, the group played well and some of the national statistics alluded to that. But, I think it’s important to remember that the ACC was down last year and Clemson was, by far, the best team in the conference. So, some of those statistics may have been a little deceiving. In 2020, I think they will have very good numbers and will better be able to back them up as they progress through the schedule.
So where will Clemson end up this year? You’ll have to check back much later for that prediction. Next time, we’ll talk offense.