CLEMSON — According to Josh Watson, defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks jokes that his position group is “still in diapers.”
It is a frighteningly accurate statement. With 2011 starters Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore in NFL camps and key reserve Tyler Shatley moved to offensive right guard, Clemson returns very little DT experience this fall.
Sophomore DeShawn Williams stands as the “grizzled veteran” with 138 snaps; fellow sophomores Watson and Grady Jarrett have 21 and 61 snaps apiece. Throw in redshirt freshman Rod Byers and true freshmen D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins, and Brooks will send a very green group against Auburn Sept. 1.
What they lack in experience, Clemson’s defensive tackles make up for in eagerness to learn. They’ve received positive reviews this month as the Tigers bear down on the season opener.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, probably more than what people thought we would. It’s all dedicated to great coaching,” Watson said. “Coach Brooks is so patient with us. Even when we mess up, he’s still drilling us every day. We’re a bunch of coachable guys, that’s what it comes down to.
“We’re not really trying to do our own thing, we’re just trying to do what needs to be done for the team. We’re just trying to do our jobs so the linebackers can do their jobs and the cornerbacks can do their jobs, it fits together like a puzzle. When something is missing, someone’s not doing their job, something’s off, the running back is going to find that hole and get through.”
Jarrett, Williams and Watson are expected to lead the group, rotating between both the “three technique” and nose guard spots and getting a significant amount of snaps.
“When the front is flipped, and I go to nose guard, Grady goes to tackle, he’s got to know what to do at three technique and I’ve got to know what to do at nose guard,” Watson said. “I play them both and I’m comfortable at both of them. I couldn’t tell you which I’m more comfortable at, because I play both of them.”
Reader and Watkins have both impressed and will avoid redshirts, contributing immediately.
“They’re actually coachable guys too when they’re taking the coaching,” Watson said. “Just little odds and ends of plays they’re picking them up now, and they’ve gotten a lot better over the past month.
Carlos came in his stance wasn’t as good, he improved on that, improved on his steps, improved on his hands, and he’s a great competitor. He’ll help us this year, so will D.J.”
New defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ arrival offered a clean slate, Watson said.
He and his teammates are learning if they’re open-minded and willing to learn, they’ll be rewarded.
“Not as far as attitude-wise, but when he says to break that habit, actually going out there that same practice and breaking that habit,” Watson said. “Not showing signs of relapsing on that habit like stepping inside on a three-technique. I’ll just come straight inside right now.”
In other words, just play within the system.
“When you’re like that, you’re more disciplined,” Watson said. “We’re not going to jump out of our gaps and try to do too much, try to overtly make plays, stuff like that. Do my job, the play comes to me, I’m going to make it. If not, I’ve got the linebackers coming behind me or the secondary making the play. Nobody’s going to out-stretch what they’re trying to do in the defense.”