The potential – oh, the potential – must have third-year Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables salivating.
His entire defensive line is back – the interior line all returning for a second-straight season – off from one of the most disruptive units in all of college football last season.
Clemson paced the nation in tackles for loss with 12 to spare (123) – the only team to average over nine per game (9.46).
Vic Beasley’s breakout season made up nearly 20 percent of that total (23 TFL), leading the ACC onto first-team all-conference honors with 13 sacks. It was only his second season playing defensive end, opting to refine his skillset and rebuff NFL first-round projections for a senior-year return.
Beasley enters 2014 as the nation’s leading returner in sacks (13), sacks per game (1), tackles for loss and tackles for loss per game (1.77). His six pass breakups are good enough for top-10 best among returning ACC peers.
Vic Beasley's 2-year impact
The light bulb flipped on about midseason into Venables’ first coaching stint in Clemson, as over the last 20 games, only Virginia Tech has matched the Tigers in sacks per game (3.3) – top-10 nationally over the last two seasons.
The Tigers, Hokies and Florida State Seminoles are among six teams to finish in the top-20 each of the last two seasons.
Counting conference newbie Louisville, five conference teams finished in the top-20 in the nation in TFL – 10 in the top-40 and 11 in the top-50.
The Cards were tops nationally in total and rush defense last season, but face replacing six starters.
A look at the leading returners (2013 stats)…
1) Clemson DE Vic Beasley – 13
2) Louisville DE Lorenzo Mauldin – 9.5
3) Virginia DE Eli Harold – 8.5
Tackles for Loss
1) Clemson DE Vic Beasley – 23
2) Virginia DE Eli Harold – 15
3) GT DT Adam Gotsis – 14.5
Projecting the ACC D-lines
(If you haven’t been around with us before, the rankings are based on production/field impact – not a straight measure of their abilities like a NFL draft board. We’re looking at not only the player’s ability, but the surrounding cast that can help him get the W's and numbers.)
1) Clemson – Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Corey Crawford
Outlook: The message will be staying hungry, and with veterans across the board, they should improve on already impressive ’13 numbers.
2) Florida State – Mario Edwards, Chris Casher, Eddie Goldman
Outlook: The NFL pipeline here isn’t running dry anytime soon with junior Mario Edwards leading another talented bunch. He had 9.5 tackles for loss last season and is a projected first-team All-ACC rep across from Beasley by Phil Steele.
3) Virginia Tech – Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall
Outlook: Virginia Tech is another ACC program that’s been able to reload a la Clemson and FSU on the d-line, but the Hokies do lose over half of their 2013 sacks (54.2). Senior Luther Maddy led VT with 6.5 sacks and 13.5 TFL last season. Fellow DE Corey Marshall returned after sitting out last season due to personal reasons, jumping back in the fray this spring to earn defensive MVP honors.
4) Louisville – Lorenzo Mauldin
Outlook: Former Georgia DC Todd Grantham is in charge now in Louisville, taking the keys of a pretty good machine of late. The Cardinals were second only to Stanford in sacks last season (43), increasing their total by 21 season-to-season. Lorenzo Mauldin is tops among the returners after 9.5 sacks and 12.5 TFL.
5) Virginia – Eli Harold
Outlook: The Hoos improved their season-to-season sack total by 11 in 2013, and they return the key cogs that got them there. Back are 21 of 22.5 d-line sacks – a good chunk of TFL and bring in consensus top-15 d-lineman Andrew Brown.
6) N.C. State – Art Norman, Thomas Teal
Outlook: Like Virginia, they have their playmakers back (17.5 of 18 d-line sacks), but are looking to make more plays (just 20 team sacks).
7) Miami – Ufomba Kamalu, Anthony Chickillo
Outlook: Miami’s line play was unspectacular – and the unit as a whole, not great last season. In a wide-open Coastal, some of the talent equating to results here could make a difference.
8) Syracuse – Robert Welsh
Outlook: Scott Shafer’s clubs are aggressive, if anything defensively (No. 19 in sacks last season), but the Orange look to replace interior stalwart Jay Bromley.
9) Georgia Tech – Adam Gotsis
Outlook: First year back in a 4-3 scheme under Ted Roof, the Techsters improved across the board. They lose one of the ACC’s top sack-threats (Jeremiah Attaochu), but return one of the better interior linemen (Adam Gotsis, 5.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL).
Outlook: Pittsburgh loses the Lombardi, Outland, Bednarik and Nagurski award winner all in one player: defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Panthers have had a top-35 total defense each of the last seven seasons, but they lose three of their four ’13 starters.
11) Boston College – Brian Mihalik
Outlook: BC’s d-line was dead-last in sacks in 2012 (6) and jumped into the top-20 last year (35). They lose the primary players in that year-to-improvement, however.
12) North Carolina – Mikey Bart
Outlook: UNC returns a league-low ’13 sacks (7.7 percent) thanks to Kareem Martin and his 11.5 being out the door.
13) Duke – Jonathan Woodruff, Jordan DeWalt-Indijo
Outlook: Duke hasn’t cracked the top-90 in TFL or top-50 sacks over the last three seasons. The highest total defense ranking was No. 61 in 2009.
14) Wake Forest – Desmond Floyd
Outlook: The Deacs lose the playmakers off a solid 2013 defensive unit – 14 sacks and 30 TFL gone between Nikita Whitlock and Zach Thompson.