D-line depth giving Swinney peace of mind this spring

Football

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football

Depth – it’s the difference between the elite and the rest in college football, and on the defensive line especially, says Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

The Tigers return eight d-lineman who played triple-digit snaps last season – and lose only one (Malliciah Goodman, 622; 7 sacks/9.5 tackles for loss), with the top-five in tackles, four of the top-five in tackles for loss and the leader in sacks back on the unit.

“Every good team I’ve been on has been in that situation,” Swinney said. “Guys in the trenches you just can play. You don’t even have to think about it.

“Some guys get hot – maybe he started that game – maybe he didn’t, but he’s that dominant player that day.”

At this point, the depth chart really isn’t even a factor for Clemson.

“I don’t ever even look,” said Swinney. “Those guys upfront, used to I would notice, but I don’t ever even know who’s in there.”

Watkins 'so much improved,' big plays an emphasis

None

The leading returners from last season are spread out too. Senior defensive tackle Josh Watson is tops in tackles (54), junior DT Grady Jarrett in tackles for loss (8.5), junior end Corey Crawford in snaps (575) and junior DE Vic Beasley in sacks (8).

Behind that crew is a hungry group of underclassmen, which includes sophomores D.J. Reader, Carlos Watkins and early-enrollees Shaq Lawson and Ebenezer Ogundeko among more.

Swinney has seen Watkins, who didn’t see the field as much as anticipated last season (113 snaps/16 tackles), take that next step.

“(He’s) so much improved, oh my goodness,” said Swinney. “Dan (Brooks) has done such a great job with him. Pad leverage, he was just a pop-up, lookaround guy when he got here.

“He has really improved throughout the season, throughout the bowl practice and now. Looks like the player that we know he can be.”

And Reader, splitting time with the baseball this spring, is there too.

“D.J. Reader has been awesome,” Swinney said. “He is really a special player. Looks great, his weight is way down. He is in that 320 range. Just really excited about that whole group and the leadership in that defensive line.”

The progression as a whole is something converted defensive tackle and second-year starting offensive guard Tyler Shatley can appreciate looking across from him.

“They had a great year last year and they’re really coming along this year,” Shatley said. “They’re really pushing each other with a lot of depth. That’s what gives them that competitive edge. Anybody can step in and take their job so they have to work.”

Under Brent Venables, the Clemson defense improved by 54 spots nationally in sacks (to 22nd) and eight in total defense (to 63rd). Next up in improvement is cutting down on opponent big plays, says Swinney.

In 2012, they surrendered more 20-yard-plus carries (24) than their offense managed (21), and allowed 45 passes of 20-plus yards.

“We got to continue to pressure the quarterback like we did the latter part of the season,” Swinney said, as the Tigers grabbed 27 of their 34 sacks in the last seven games. “Pressure the quarterback (and) eliminate the big plays will be the No. 1 thing.

“…Just the consistency, play in-play out, quarter in-quarter out, week in-week out – that’s what it’s going to take to be one of those (top 10 defenses).”

© 2013 OrangeAndWhite.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 8

rsb8931#286014 writes:

I bet Dabo will know who's playing when somebody runs draw play on 3rd and 9 and gains 12 yards right up the gut and we lose the game because of it.

Clemorange writes:

I truly cannot wait to see our tigers play, my blood has ran orange since the dantzler days and I couldn't be more proud. I'm watching something great in the making, in fact I can see Dabo getting tan lines on his finger from a national championship ring already. Just keep putting it together boys, your making history.

rsb8931#286014 writes:

I am as optomistic as anyone, but we all must have a realistic view of the upcoming football season. Based on our performance in the Peach Bowl last New Year's Eve, we have a lot to look forward to. We must be aware of the fact that to win all our games we cannot have a fumble, penalty or turnover at a critical time of the game. One missed opportunity can cause you to lose a game, and give the other team a national championship. Remember the Auburn game the year they won it all. We had them beat if only for a bad pass by Kyle Parker to someone that was wide open in the end zone. Had we scord and won the game, Auburn would not have won the national championship. I am not criticizing Kyle Parker. I thought he showed courage in even finishing the game, what, with the broken back he suffered earlier in the game. It takes an awsome defense to be a great football team. Based on our defensive performance in the Peach Bowl, coupled with the real good young guys coming in, we seem to have the pieces falling into place to have a national championship season. Or at least a 12 and 0 year and the ACC Championship game. This is a real possibility for the Tigers this year. Let's not forget that to go undefeated, almost perfect ball has to be played in nearly every game. It is no easy task, but I have a gut feeling this could be a really big year for Clemson football. I can't wait till August 31 and see how well we play against Georgia. It will be a big day in Death Valley!

lhaselden writes:

I am proud of our defense getting 3 and outs last year including 8 in the Chik-Fil-A bowl... I think this is more important with our current offense than it is for other teams. While I do not the chunk plays by our opponents I think it is just as important to get them off the field. Something we were not able to do with NCState or SC last season. The long drives wear our our D and lets the opposing D rest and catch their breath. I think if our D gets 8 3and outs in a game and our O has 2 or less we will win regardless of chunk plays.

radtiger writes:

We will only win a NC if the SEC goes on strike.....WHY DO WE FOOL OURSELF EVERY YEAR???? Just because Dabbo fill our heads every year pretending that we are a better team than what we really are!!!! Of course any team can look decent during practice but put them out there against the conference(SEC) that owns football and they SHUT DOWN. Its one thing to be confident but another to be STUPID.

BrandonRink writes:

in response to radtiger:

We will only win a NC if the SEC goes on strike.....WHY DO WE FOOL OURSELF EVERY YEAR???? Just because Dabbo fill our heads every year pretending that we are a better team than what we really are!!!! Of course any team can look decent during practice but put them out there against the conference(SEC) that owns football and they SHUT DOWN. Its one thing to be confident but another to be STUPID.

Um, the Chick-fil-A Bowl?

radtiger writes:

in response to BrandonRink:

Um, the Chick-fil-A Bowl?

My point exactly,That game was won in the final last minutes. We beat 1 "out of conference team" and think we are headed for a NC.....pleeease!!! if we was in any other conference, we wouldnt win no more than 3 or 4 games depending on which conference .Its sad that our fans are in such DENIAL

FutureClemsonFootballPlayer writes:

in response to radtiger:

My point exactly,That game was won in the final last minutes. We beat 1 "out of conference team" and think we are headed for a NC.....pleeease!!! if we was in any other conference, we wouldnt win no more than 3 or 4 games depending on which conference .Its sad that our fans are in such DENIAL

Then start wearing Garnet and Black and start cockadoodlin because everyone has faith in this Clemson team cept you. We beat the SEC team who beat A&M and was 1 busted play away from playing in the Champ game. With a win over Georgia and SCAR this year as well as undefeated conference play, what stops us from going to the champ game at the least?

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features