CLEMSON - Just the thought of what a veteran Clemson defense can do next season sends a smile across senior defensive tackle DeShawn Williams’ face.
The Tigers return seven starters and a number of reserves who’ve played from a team that finished No. 1 nationally in tackles for loss (123), No. 2 in three-and-outs forced (6.1) and sacks (38) and top-25 in both scoring (22.2) and total defense (356.3).
Most surprising out of the returning bunch was first-team All-American defensive end Vic Beasley, who compiled 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss and spurned some first-round NFL draft projections.
His return ensured Clemson was returning its entire d-line, on a unit that was already bringing back its interior line for a second-straight year.
“I’ve never been a part of nothing like this. To have your whole (unit) back for your senior year – it’s crazy,” Williams said. “Something special is going to come out of this. We know we can’t get complacent. We can’t buy into the hype everybody’s giving us. We know what we have to do and just have to stay humble and work hard.”
The Daniel product, who’s posted 87 tackles over the last two years, is taking in each day on the field with the paw on his helmet.
“I remember just yesterday as a freshman coming in,” Williams said. ”Now, being a senior – this is my last one so I need to make it count. Grady (Jarrett) told us the first practice to take every practice as your last because we don’t have any more. This is my last go ‘round and I’m going to push my teammates and my teammates are going to push me. We’re going to ride out with this thing.”
He says for a unit that already excels in making plays in the backfield – a third-year in Brent Venables’ system spells even more trouble for opposing offenses.
“That confidence goes with the knowledge of the playbook,” said Williams. “Being here three years in the scheme – we can call out things before it even happens. Now we can play free. It’s third-and-long and we can just pin our ears back with great defensive ends.
“Our secondary and our front-seven will be good so we can be confident in the scheme.”
Inter-team competition will keep things fresh as well, as he knows the seniors aren’t guaranteed spots with some of the talent lined up behind them.
“Coach (Dan) Brooks isn’t showing favoritism,” he said. “He’s going to play the best. If you’re practicing and performing the best, he’s going to play you. There’s no favoritism. We’re all going out there like our job’s on the line and we’re not comfortable at all.”
Among those fighting for time will be sophomore defensive end Shaq Lawson, who posted four sacks and earned freshman All-American honors. Redshirt sophomore tackle Carlos Watkins returns after sitting out the season after a car accident.
Junior tackle D.J. Reader should compete for a starting role after another high tackle-to-snap ratio last season (.126).
“I’m confident in what type of guys we got,” Williams said. “Y’all see we’ve got Carlos (Watkins), D.J. (Reader), Rod (Byers), Scott (Pagano) and we’ll have some more guys coming – they do a good job recruiting. They know it’s our last go ‘round and they listen to us and now we’re the leader of the pack. They’re following in our footsteps. I have full confidence when we leave they’re going to dominate and still be the same.”