CLEMSON – Dan Brooks has his choices.
For a second-straight season, he has the defensive-tackle two-deep back – plus a couple former top prospects fighting to get on the field.
Because of the competition, Clemson has upped its substitutions on the interior to keep opponents guessing – and players fresh.
Since, no single player has been on the field for even 60 percent – Grady Jarrett the only Tiger to play over 500 snaps in a season (twice).
And there’s a reason the Conyers, Ga. native has made it the field so often.
Playing 58.5 percent of the snaps last season, he was third on the Tigers in tackles (83) and tackles for loss (11).
Junior D.J. Reader says he’s a leader off the field as well.
“He’s just a great all-around guy,” Reader said. “You talk about ‘all in’ and Grady’s all in. I can always go and talk to him if I’m having any tough times. I always call on ‘G’ because he’s like my big brother. Every time I call him it’s nothing but positive words and he’s going to keep it real with anybody.”
Reader was third in snaps, but second among the interior line with tackles for loss (5) and tied with Jarrett in sacks (3).
After offseason surgery on his back, Josh Watson looks to return to his 2012 form, where he posted 54 tackles and three sacks.
Daniel product DeShawn Williams rounds out the group of seniors, who has 87 tackles in over 700 snaps the last two years.
Add to the mix former four-star prospects Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano – and junior Rod Byers (19 tackles, 1 TFL in ’13) – just getting on the field will be tough for anyone.
“The competition is serious,” Reader said. “Since I came here, it’s been real serious competition. Nothing’s changed for me. Nothing’s changed for the guy’s coming in. It’s how it’s always been. We’re just competing and getting better.
“It’s wide-open anywhere. You never know what coach Brooks is going to think. I’m going to go out there and push myself. I’m sure Carlos, Grady, DeShawn, Josh, Rod and Scott are going to go push themselves as hard as they can.
“You just never know. We’re just going to push each other hard and not let anyone slack off so that whoever goes out there on gameday is going to be ready.”
Last spring, Reader juggled baseball and football – a tough task, and too tough to really continue. He has been able to give 100 percent on the gridiron this spring without baseball tying him up this spring.
“When I’m out here practicing, I feel like I’ve got a lot more energy just because I know I’ve got this one practice and then I’m off for the day,” Reader said. “I’m just trying to exhaust myself as much as I can in practice and leave it all out on the field.”
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has noticed.
“I would say since after spring break he’s been really pretty noticeable,” said Venables. “He’s trying to slim up a little bit so he can be a little more active. Better agility. Hopefully that continues to happen.”
The feeling from the interior out on the d-line to the back-seven – this defensive unit can turn the tide in how Clemson football is seen.
“We take it upon ourselves,” Reader said. “We take that role and know what we have to do. It’s basically business as usual because we know what we’ve got to do. We’ve taken that role since we’ve got here. It’s never in our minds been an offensive team.
“We’ve always believed it to be a defensive team because we believe that defense wins championships. We have to go out there and play as hard as we can. We have to take ownership of that.
“I feel that the bar has been set higher off of last year’s season. We wouldn’t want the bar any lower. That’s really good. We’re just trying to reach it and keep it going up and up.”