Inexperience looks to be bigger factor than talent level in Tigers' run defense woes

The Clemson Sports Blog

The Clemson defense collapses on Furman running back Jerodis Williams in the second quarter.

Photo by Nathan Gray

The Clemson defense collapses on Furman running back Jerodis Williams in the second quarter.

In trying to figure out why teams are having such success running the football against the Tigers, I began digging around for some numbers to address both experience and talent on Clemson's defensive front.

First, let's look at the snap count of the players in Clemson's defensive line rotation, coming into the season.

DeShawn Williams led the way with 138 snaps logged during his true freshman season (just under 10 per game), and he was followed by Grady Jarrett with 61, Josh Watson with 21, and Tra Thomas with eight. Punch in zeros for D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins - both first-year freshmen this fall - and Rod Byers, a redshirt freshman.

That comes out to a seven-man average of 2.33 snaps per-man, per-game. The four 'veterans' in the group averaged 4.1 snaps per-man, per-game.

So it's more than coach-speak when Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables and Dan Brooks utter the word "inexperience."

Second, consider the recruiting rankings (for whatever they're worth) of Clemson's recent classes of interior defensive linemen.

In the past six recruiting cycles (2007-2012), Clemson has signed 13 interior defensive linemen. The breakdown (according to a composite of Rivals and Scout): no five-stars, five 4-stars, seven 3-stars, and one 2-star, for an average star rating of 3.3.

How does that compare to the competition?

During the same period, Florida State has signed 15 interior defensive linemen, with an average of 3.8 stars. The Seminoles' breakdown: three 5-stars, six 4-stars, six 3-stars, no 2-stars.

Alabama: 21 defensive tackles signed, including no 5-stars, ten 4-stars, eleven 3-stars, and no 2-stars, for an average of 3.5.

Auburn: 11 defensive tackles signed, including no 5-stars, five 4-stars, five 3-stars, one 2-star, for an average of 3.4 stars per signee.

LSU: 10 defensive tackles signed, including two 5-stars, seven 4-stars, one 3-star and no 2-stars, for an average of 4.1.

In assessing Clemson's current situation, cyclical inexperience would appear to be a bigger factor than recruiting disparity compared to other programs who have, or have had recently, dominant run defenses.

During the past three years, Clemson has sent interior defensive linemen Jarvis Jenkins, Brandon Thompson, Miguel Chavis, Rennie Moore, and Jamie Cumbie to NFL training camps, in addition to defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers, Andre Branch, Ricky Sapp, Kourtnei Brown and Kevin Alexander.

After the Furman game, Dabo Swinney was asked if he thought Clemson had the defensive line talent to stand up to best in college football.

This is what he said:

"I remember when Da'Quan (Bowers) was a sophomore - he wasn't very good, but he took it to another level. I remember when Andre Branch was a sophomore, he wasn't very good, and he became a second-round draft pick.

"We have no juniors. We're all sophomores and freshmen. Do we have the talent? Yes. Are we dominant yet? No. Can we be? Yes. That's why we coach. That's why we play the game. They're all going to get better. So ask me that question two years from now when all them boys are full-grown men.

"But we've got what we've got now, and we have to go play. These guys are playing hard, trying and learning. Most of those guys on the defensive line are playing for the first time significant snaps. This is an opportunity for them to get better and better.

"I think we have very good talent - well above average talent. But we're not dominant, by any stretch of the imagination right now. But I think with time, they will be."

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Comments » 5

teeman89 writes:

I concur with Dabo's answer about the D-line. Long live the mighty Tigers!!!

Lynx26 writes:

agreed, they're playin like pups too. Would love to see Steward #7 get some LB time though.

Christian #34 cannot rush, set edge.

columbiabill writes:

Not sure if this is a 2012 or 2011 article. If I remember correctly, all we heard last year was inexperience with the defense. Sorry, I don't buy the inexperience explanation. In today's college football world good defensive or offensive players are gone after 3 years, so there is always the need to have 1st and 2nd year players along with red shirts to step up to the task at hand. There is always going to be inexperience somewhere on a football team. I like Chad Morris's comparison to dogs in that if they don't bite as pups they are not going to bite as grown dogs. We need our pups to start biting and make up their minds they are not going to be blocked no matter who or what comes at them. Maybe everyone is too much concerned with scheme and alignment and we need to have more of an attitude of just go sic em.

waran writes:

I am sorry, I dont buy the inexperience as the argument too!!!

Clemson has had a poor defense for few years now. Yet, we recruit the best and place a lot in the NFL I dont think it is the experience or the quality of players we recruit. It is coaching and it is toughness of the overall team. I am not blaming Brent, he is new to the program and needs time. Dont know what needs to be done to build toughness and the necessary mentality. But that should be the focus when we recruit. I have the confidence that Dabo and Brent will do what is necessary, perhaps next year, but more I think, likely in 2 years.

33dtb writes:

in response to waran:

I am sorry, I dont buy the inexperience as the argument too!!!

Clemson has had a poor defense for few years now. Yet, we recruit the best and place a lot in the NFL I dont think it is the experience or the quality of players we recruit. It is coaching and it is toughness of the overall team. I am not blaming Brent, he is new to the program and needs time. Dont know what needs to be done to build toughness and the necessary mentality. But that should be the focus when we recruit. I have the confidence that Dabo and Brent will do what is necessary, perhaps next year, but more I think, likely in 2 years.

Clemson used to be Linebacker U until "brother in law" was put in charge of them.

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