Baseball on backburner, D.J. Reader's working on versatility

Clemson's Martin Aiken, D.J. Reader, and Josh Watson during spring football practice.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Martin Aiken, D.J. Reader, and Josh Watson during spring football practice.

CLEMSON – This time around, fall camp is easier for sophomore defensive tackle D.J. Reader.

“It’s going really well. I haven’t hit the wall like my freshman year,” Reader said of his second installment of the August Clemson practices. “After the first week, it’s tough to keep pushing through (in camp). I’m just trying to keep the freshmen up and help them push through.”

The 6-3 335 product had a busy first sports-year on campus, compiling a tackle every 5.9 plays on the field, and then playing a whole season on the diamond under Jack Leggett, reaching base three times in seven games played with a run scored.

“(Baseball) was a really good experience,” Reader said. “I had a lot of fun and learned a lot of things. It’s always good to learn under great head coaches like that and kind of soak it in. You never get enough coaching in life no matter what you do.”

The Greensboro, N.C. native says he hasn’t decided if he will try two sports again coming up, but right now, he’s just focusing on learning everything he can about his position.

“You can never be satisfied,” said Reader. “You always have to work on technique. Right now, I’m playing good and my pads have been very high. I’m making a lot of plays, but I have a very high pad level and that’s something I really have to go back and work on.”

Pad level is something that can be overlooked by the football layman, but Reader says it’s the key to success on the defensive line.

“It starts with your stance,” he said. “A lot of defensive line’s (issues) starts with your stance. If you don’t have good eyes, you tend to raise up and look for the ball instead of reading your keys. I’m just trying to get my butt higher, pads lower in my stance and keep my eyes on where my keys are.”

Reader sits behind junior Josh Watson on the depth chart in a rotation of five on the interior which also includes Grady Jarrett (junior), DeShawn Williams (junior) and Carlos Watkins (sophomore).

He says his first year he focused only on one position to get on the field, but a season and offseason in, he’s becoming a versatile option.

“I used to play the 2 (lined up with the guard),” Reader said. “Now I’m learning the tackle position, but there’s nothing I don’t understand about the defense. It all works together. I’m starting to understand what the defensive ends are doing. It’s been good.”

As a unit, the defense didn’t exactly pass its first test of fall practice, allowing almost 600 yards with six touchdowns in a stadium scrimmage, but Reader says the mistakes are fixable.

“We played alright,” said Reader. “We didn’t play as bad as we thought we did. We missed a few tackles here and there. Had a high pad level here and there and bad eyes. It was a lot of things that are correctable. Not a lot of things where they flat out beat us on a play.

“It’s very encouraging that we can correct them and not say ‘oh well, that’s just awful.’”

Getting the test from one of the nation’s best offenses doesn’t hurt either.

“Our offense is really good,” he said. “Everybody knows that. It’s going against a great offense like that who’s high-speed and getting a play off every seven seconds. It’s really good learning for the young guys and us too.”

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Players initiating any type of hit above the shoulders – but especially using the crown of the helmet – will be ejected starting this season. The play in question will go to the replay booth before enforcing the exit, but the 15-yard penalty will be tacked on regardless.

“We haven’t really had any issues on our practice field, although we may have some that maybe the refs would differ with,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s the unknown. How is it going to be officiated? How are they going to interpret certain things? It’s the unintended play that comes into question.”

They are scheduled to have a special clinic on the rule for the players, but as of now, the tackling techniques haven’t changed, according to one player.

“Absolutely not,” sophomore safety Travis Blanks said. “They just continue to coach how football is supposed to be played.”

Blanks says it creates a balance of what he’s been taught for years and abiding by the rules.

“This is an instinctive, physical (and) reckless game and that’s how you have to play it,” he said. “You also have to obey the rules. That’ll be a difficult change to college football because so many guys have learned to play this game violent and physical manner.

“When rules change, you have to comply with them. It’ll be tough, but you have to do it.”

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