Now, with Branch gone to the NFL as a second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, major opportunity exists on the edge of the Tigers’ defensive line.
By all accounts, both players are taking full advantage of it.
With less than two weeks remaining before Sept. 1’s Georgia Dome season opener against Auburn, Beasley and Crawford are fighting hard for the starting role opposite senior end Malliciah Goodman.
“Me and Vic, we just compete,” said Crawford. “Whoever (defensive ends) coach (Marion) Hobby thinks is the best man, he’s going to get the starting spot. But we’re pushing each other, trying to make each other better.”
Crawford finished spring No.1 on the depth chart, and has been regarded as Branch’s heir apparent. He was rated as the nation’s No.1 overall prep school prospect by 247sports.com while at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy, and was widely considered one of the nation’s top 20 defensive end prospects coming out of high school in Columbus, Ga.
He had 29 tackles in 252 snaps playing behind Branch as a true freshman; at 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, he has prototypical size.
What was his biggest lesson learned? Preparation.
“Last season, playing a backup role, watching Branch, I learned you have to play faster than your opponent,” he said. “And in order to play faster than your opponent you’ve got to go in, watch film and just know what they’re going to do.”
Crawford says Hobby has pushed technique and quicker feet this spring and fall.
“He preaches that to me a lot,” he said. “He’s onto me hard. With him going at it, it’s going to make me a better player.”
Meanwhile, Beasley appears to have finally found a home. The Adairsville, Ga., native played tailback and linebacker in high school; ESPN.com rated him as the nation’s No.16 athlete prospect, with Rivals.com rating him the No.37 athlete.
He began at Clemson as a tight end, and moved to “Will” linebacker near the end of his redshirt season, then played there in spring 2011. He moved to defensive end last fall, getting only 16 defensive snaps and two tackles while contributing on special teams.
“Coming in at tight end, I could have played at that position, too,” he said. “But since I’m at defensive end right now, I feel like I’m a more versatile guy, and that’s a good fit for me.”
At 225-230 pounds (he weighed 225 this week following a series of tough practices), Beasley is smaller than the typical defensive end, and is working on adding bulk while keeping athleticism.
“It’s gotta be my technique (that I’m working on),” he said. “I’m learning about taking on big tackles, using my strength and ability to hang with those guys.”
And, of course, Crawford.
“Me and Corey, we go out every day and try to work hard,” Beasley said. “Whoever the starter is, it is what it is, but I feel we’re both capable of being a first-team guy.”