SUNSET – Depth, in a football sense, can be a bit of a vague term.
Narrowed down, it has a two-part definition – the number of players and just how good they are – and either way, Clemson’s defensive coaches are pretty sure they have it in their front-seven.
In charge of defensive tackles, Dan Brooks has coached many a d-line going into his fifth season at Clemson and 29th year as a full-time college coach.
Ideally, he wants an entire two-deep-plus ready to play come August 31st against Georgia’s veteran offensive line.
“For me, if you can have 10 defensive lineman that you can feel comfortable with putting in the game,” Brooks said. “Five inside and five outside, I know that’s like dying and going to heaven, but that’s how you want it to be.”
A healthy rotation is Brooks’ base philosophy and it shows in the snap count. Only one Tiger defensive tackle topped 500 snaps last season, while his top-four each played over 230 (28.2 per game on average).
“I roll my guys,” Brooks said. “You very rarely see my guys play more than eight snaps in a row. I’m going to get another guy in the game and it may not be but two or three snaps. You need at least two-deep ready to play.”
Playing fresh, that two-deep of three rising juniors and a sophomore all made their own impact.
Josh Watson led the group with 54 tackles and Daniel’s own DeShawn Williams wasn’t far behind (50) last season. Grady Jarrett returns as the Tigers’ leader in tackles for loss (8.5), while D.J. Reader as a freshman posted the highest tackles per snap rate of the group (.169) in more limited playing time.
Brooks says it’s those four plus rising sophomore Carlos Watkins, a former four-star rated prospect, that he’s sure will be in the mix.
“We’re going to compete with DeShawn, Josh, Grady, Carlos and D.J.,” he said. “They have earned that deal that two of those guys will start the first game. With Grady probably a starter, whether it’s Josh or D.J. Reader (for the other spot), it’s up to them.”
Coaching linebackers, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has a different spin on depth for his position.
“We’ve got a really good group of guys – six or seven of them – that we feel really good about,” said Venables. “It’s quality depth. It’s not depth in numbers, but it’s what is that next guy. What kind of quality and leader (he is), where his understanding of what you want done (is and) where he’s at.”
Upperclassmen are manning all the starting spots in senior Spencer Shuey (weakside), junior Stephone Anthony (middle) and senior Quandon Christian (strongside).
Shuey edged out Anthony midseason 2012 at middle linebacker, averaging almost 10 tackles per game (9.9) starting the final seven contests. A former five-star prospect, Anthony will get his second shot at the job come fall camp, after Venables tagged him as a “prototypical” middle linebacker this spring.
In the second tier is another former five-star and junior Tony Steward (WLB), redshirt sophomore B.J. Goodson (MLB) and redshirt freshman T.J. Burrell (SLB).
“I love our linebackers,” Venables said. “Their chemistry, they all like each other. They all like ball. They all like to work. You can coach them all hard.
“We’ve got a combination of guys that can run, that can strike and that have instincts and that are tough and that can lead.”
In terms of intrigue, even further down the depth chart are three to watch in sophomore transfer Kellen Jones and highly-rated freshman signees Dorian O’Daniel (Good Counsel) and Ben Boulware (T.L. Hanna).
Jones followed his position coach Venables from Oklahoma to Clemson in 2012 and received rave reviews on the scout team then more recently in spring practice.
“He’s an instinctive guy,” said Venables. “He loves to play and he loves to compete. He’s still growing and maturing on doing the little things that you have to do to compete. He’ll definitely play if he has a good fall camp.”
Under two weeks until camp starts, the hard workers in these stacked units will get their chance to rise to the top.
“Coach (Dabo) Swinney tells them all the time: ‘If you don’t enjoy the grind, you don’t need to play college football,” Brooks said. “What we’re about to do right now is a grind. There are no pretty girls on campus and not many people there come August 1st until August 31st.
“It’s a grind and they got to enjoy that and go to work every day. They’ll determine that.”