Grady Jarrett, 'heart and soul' of Clemson's defense, is making a name for himself

Dabo Swinney: 'He's the guy who sets the standard for everybody in that group'

Clemson's Grady Jarrett tackles Syracuse's Prince-Tyson Gulley during the second quarter at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Grady Jarrett tackles Syracuse's Prince-Tyson Gulley during the second quarter at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.

After working incognito for two seasons, Clemson junior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is making a name for himself.

Dabo Swinney knew. So did Dan Brooks. So do the players that line up both beside and opposite Jarrett every Saturday.

But on the national radar, before the season Clemson's 2012 defensive MVP didn't even make a blip.

When FOX sent Eddie George to campus to tape a feature on the Tigers prior to the Georgia game, Swinney asked the former NFL running back if he could name a single Clemson defensive lineman.

George came up empty.

Swinney is betting that five weeks into the season, George and others may now have taken notice of Jarrett's name, along with those of national sacks leader Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, DeShawn Williams, Josh Watson and D.J. Reader, Shaq Lawson, Tavaris Barnes and Carlos Watkins.

"I used that with our team," Swinney said. "I felt like we had good players, and that these guys had the right stuff. But now, other people know. These guys are starting to create a little bit of an identity for themselves. I love that, man - I just love it."

Swinney says the "heart and soul" of Clemson's deep and interchangeable defensive line group is Jarrett, an under-sized, under-recruited prospect who earned a recruiting look from Brooks, the Tigers' defensive line coach, because of his reputation as a state championship wrestler at Rockdale County High in Conyers, Ga.

Brooks invited Jarrett to attend a session of Swinney's summer camp before his junior season, and then invited him back the next year. Not only did Brooks like what he saw, he was sold on Jarrett's future as a high-level college player.

"Grady was a guy who was, quote, 'undersized' - mainly his height," Brooks said before the season. "But we had watched him play, and he played with tremendous effort and was a great competitor and had great strength levels from his 'rasslin'.

"I'd had a couple of 'rasslers before, and I liked that because they're strong and they understand leverage. So he came to camp going into his junior year and then came back before his senior year. Nobody ever beat him one-on-one in camp. He was a hundred percent."

Growing up, Jarrett had a high-level football pedigree, as the son of Atlanta Falcons linebacker and five-time Pro Bowler Jessie Tuggle and as the 'adopted' nephew of future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who he grew up calling 'uncle,' though they're not biologically related.

But at the time he committed to Clemson in June, 2010, Jarrett had other offers only from Western Carolina, Buffalo, Georgia State, Middle Tennessee and Mississippi State.

Jarrett got his feet wet as a true freshman in 2011, when he worked his way into Clemson's group of all-freshman backups that included Watson, Williams and Crawford. Last year, he emerged as the rapidly improving group's most consistent performer.

This season, he's showing all the signs of stardom for a defensive unit that ranks second in the nation in tackles for loss and 16th in scoring defense.

"Grady is kind of the heart and soul of our defense," Swinney said. "He's relentless in his preparation, relentless in his effort. He's strong and physical, he plays with low pads."

Swinney said if someone asked him to describe Jarrett, he'd show them a 10-second clip from the Syracuse game.

"The quarterback got loose and scrambled, and Stephone Anthony rallied and ended up making the tackle," Swinney said. "Grady got cut, gets up, runs and just flies in to get in on this tackle. That's Grady Jarrett. You can describe him in just one play. He's always that way, and has been ever since he got here."

Told of what Swinney said, Jarrett shrugged it off as no big deal.

“I always hustle to the ball because you never know what can happen,” Jarrett said. “Effort is a great equalizer because the ball might pop out or the runner might still stay up and I have to get him down. I feel like if he’s within reasonable distance from me, then I can go get him. I just want a piece of the action."

So far this season, Jarrett ranks as the Tigers' third leading tackler with 32 stops, including 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a team-high eight quarterback-pressures.

He hopes he's starting to transcend his reputation as an anonymous, line-of-scrimmage "run stuffer."

"I don't like that label," Jarrett said. "I feel like I’ve always been a pretty disruptive player. Being my size and my position, people probably do think that I’m just a run-stuffer. I feel like I do everything pretty good, even though I still feel like I have to get better in every area.

"I’d like to get some sacks, so I’ve got to work on getting there a little faster."

Brooks sees Jarrett emerging to an elite level of performance.

"You always want a guy who's so disruptive that the offensive coordinator has to say 'how are we gonna get that guy blocked?'" Brooks said. "We don't have that yet, but Grady's close, just because of his competitiveness, his strength and the whole package. He plays the game so hard and makes people worry about where he is. That's where you want to be as a defensive lineman."

Swinney said that in everything he does, Jarrett is a role model for his teammates.

"He's the guy who sets the standard for everybody in that group," Swinney said. "They're a blue collar bunch, they're very unselfish and they have great chemistry.

"They like practicing and they like playing, and they take great pride in doing the things we need to do to win."

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Comments » 1

rsb8931#286014 writes:

It is so refreshing to have highly educated coaches that have command of the English language. I am highly educated and I have known since I was a little kid it is "rasslin" and don't believe it if someone tells you otherwise, cause they are just plum dumb! I've known since Haystack Calhoun and Johnny Weaver rassled as a tag team what the correct spelling and pronunciation of it was.

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