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Defensive Line

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Defensive Tackles

Christian Wilkins

Dexter Lawrence

Albert Huggins

Nyles Pinckney

Jordan Williams

Darnell Jeffries

Defensive Ends

Austin Bryant

Richard Yeargin

Chris Register

Clelin Ferrell

Xavier Kelly

Logan Rudolph

Justin Foster

Xavier Thomas

K.J. Henry

Justin Mascoll

Green = things I got right / Red = things I got wrong

2018 Season Preview

Much like WR on offense, Defensive Line has been a position group where a gluttonous amount of talent has resided over the past 5 years.  The list is beautiful, so I thought you’d like to see a lineage at each position since 2014. Active NFL players are in bold.

SDE: Corey Crawford, Kevin Dodd, Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant

WDE: Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson, Clelin Ferrell

DT: Josh Watson, DeShawn Williams, D.J. Reader/C. Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence

DT: Grady Jarrett, Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins

During the 2017 season, a popular refrain from the announcers during Clemson games was that there were “4 first round picks on the defensive line.”  While that may have been an exaggeration, it’s not a big one. All four of the starters are NFL material at worst.  With three of the four eligible to take their talents to the next level, it seemed to be a forgone conclusion that they were gone. In a shocking twist of good fortune for Tiger fans, all three decided to return for another year.

Clemson now gets to confidently roll out the most talented DL in the country in 2018. This is the first time any team has returned 3 first team All Americans (on various lists) on the DL. That means that the announcers will be selling them in games as “perhaps the best DL in the history of college football.”  The only concerns are complacency and injury. You wonder if they will succumb to the natural tendency of resting on their laurels a little bit.  Dexter Lawrence’s foot is also somewhat of a concern right now because the injury has lingered a bit.

With everybody expecting Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, and Austin Bryant to turn pro, the Tigers were also able to stock up on the DL in recruiting the past two years. Clemson landed two 4-Star DEs in Logan Rudolph and Justin Foster last year and bring in two 5-Star DEs in K.J. Henry and Xavier Thomas this year. At DT, the Tigers brought in 4- Stars Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams last year and 4-Star Josh Belk and High 3-Star Darnell Jeffries this year. Of course, Belk decided to transfer after the spring which does leave some issues with depth on the interior.

Fall Camp Depth Chart

SDE: Austin Bryant, Chris Register, Logan Rudolph, Xavier Thomas
WDE: Clelin Ferrell, Justin Foster, Xavier Kelly, K.J. Henry, Richard Yeargin
DT: Christian Wilkins, Albert Huggins, Jordan Williams
DT: Dexter Lawrence, Albert Huggins, Nyles Pinckney, Darnell Jeffries

Albert Huggins is listed as the backup at both DT spots and that kind of summarizes the drop-off after him. Pinckney did not improve from his freshman spring to his sophomore spring, so we’re still waiting on him to break out and take the other backup spot. I thought Williams handily out-played Pink in the spring game, so we’ll see if that continues in fall camp or Pink fights back.

Chris Register is listed as the backup at SDE and I am not a fan of that, but I understand Dabo’s methods and to expect this kind of thing on a yearly basis. Richard Yeargin is listed as the 4th string WDE here, but you have to think the one-time heir apparent to Vic Beasley will be moving up the depth chart if healthy.

The starters are set which probably goes without saying.

Season Depth Chart

SDE: Austin Bryant, Xavier Thomas, Logan Rudolph, Chris Register
WDE: Clelin Ferrell, Richard Yeargin or Justin Foster, Xavier Kelly, K.J. Henry (redshirt)
DT: Christian Wilkins, Albert Huggins, Jordan Williams
DT: Dexter Lawrence, Albert Huggins, Nyles Pinckney, Darnell Jeffries

Xavier Thomas is a very talented guy with all of the tools. I think the staff knows that he is the heir apparent at one of the DE spots and that they need to get him some snaps this year to get him ready. I like him to be moved up to 2nd string once he gets Venables’ confidence from a mental standpoint.

I have Richard Yeargin moving up to 2nd string post-fall camp if he’s 100%. I think he will have a hard time holding off Justin Foster at WDE if Foster can continue to improve during the season. Logan Rudolph is a good player, but like Xavier Kelly, he is stuck in no-mans land on the depth chart where he’s good enough to play, but we’re ridiculously deep at his position. Rudolph could benefit from a redshirt year this year, especially with the new rules that allow more playing time.

At DT, I fear we are going to be stuck with a 3-man rotation for meaningful snaps. In fact, with Huggins listed as a co-starter post spring, the staff is all but telling us that this is how they see it. The hope is that at some point, one of either Williams, Pinckney, or Jeffries will improve enough to be the 4th guy. And yes, I have Jeffries avoiding a redshirt even though he probably should. We need the depth with only 6 scholarship DTs on the roster, but I’m cool with them trying to get away with redshirting him too.

Xavier Kelly is a very good player, but he’s a power player in a havoc scheme. He definitely showed improvement in the havoc area in the spring game, but I don’t believe he should be listed as a WDE. He’s a SDE by trade.

The Kraken Depth Chart

SDE: Austin Bryant, Richard Yeargin or Xavier Kelly, Logan Rudolph, Chris Register
WDE: Clelin Ferrell, Xavier Thomas, Justin Foster, Logan Rudolph, K.J. Henry (redshirt)
DT: Christian Wilkins, Jordan Williams, Darnell Jeffries
DT: Dexter Lawrence, Albert Huggins, Nyles Pinckney

I would flip Xavier Kelly and Xavier Thomas. Thomas is the pass-rushing havoc player with the most upside and Kelly is the power playing edge setter. Yes, Thomas has SDE size at 265, but so did Shaq Lawson and he played WDE. I feel like the depth chart is out of whack at DE based on the skill set of the players there. It’s possible that this is about something said during Thomas and Henry’s recruiting where they were told they would get a shot to play as true freshman and become the new Ferrell/Bryant. I have no idea, it’s just a strange depth chart at DE.

The first thing I would do on the defensive line is move Register to the bench and make him the special teams captain. That would allow Venables to flip the DEs over to the side that best fits their skills. Yeargin and Kelly would move to SDE and Thomas and Rudolph move to WDE. As of the spring, Rudolph (235 lbs.) needs to add weight and learn both positions. I see him, like Register and Yeargin before him, playing whichever position he is needed throughout his career.

The other thing they could do with Xavier Kelly, and this could even be in motion right now, is have him put on 15-25 pounds and play inside. This would fill the Jabril Robinson quick tackle role in obvious passing situations and buy some rest for Lawrence/Wilkins. There is a good chance that somebody is moving to DT, whether it be Kelly or an OL. If the staff’s intention is to bury Kelly on the depth chart at 4th string WDE, why not just move him?

Spring Preview 2018

Over the past 4 years, the Tigers have been “Beastly” on the defensive line. The 2017 season was no different. While the depth of previous seasons may not have been there, the 4 starters were as good as any combo in the country. Throughout the season, an oft-used phrase by in-game announcers was that “Clemson has four 1st round picks on the defensive line.”

Three of those four, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant were draft eligible players. So, the fact that we’re heading into 2018 and we have all three of them back is a huge surprise. It’s like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist coming back to Kentucky basketball for their Sophomore year. If everybody is healthy, this should be the undisputed best defensive line in the country heading into the 2018 season.

Perhaps their return forced a couple of transfers out though. Jabril Robinson and Sterling Johnson have left the program. We shouldn’t miss them this year. Jabril developed into a solid, quick DT, but he is undersized. Johnson, who as you know, I think is special, never played for some reason.

We brought in two commits to take their places at DT in Josh Belk and Darnell Jeffries. They will be here for spring practice. Jordan Williams will be coming off redshirt and will jump into the fold. We also brought in 3 DEs, 2 of which are available for the spring, Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry. Justin Mascoll arrives in the fall.

The staff also added a new coach for the DL as well. Lemanski Hall will take over as the DEs coach and Todd Bates will now have only the DTs.

Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant

Stay Healthy.

Albert Huggins and Nyles Pinckney

It’s hard to believe that Albert Huggins is already heading into his senior year. For most of his first 3 years here, we have been waiting for him to break out. When Dex went down and missed FSU and The Citadel, Huggins got the start and appeared to have the breakout we’ve been waiting on. Huggins is our clear 3rd tackle heading into spring and I don’t see that changing post-spring.

With the departure of Jabril and Sterling, Nyles Pinckney is the clear #4 tackle. This spring, he needs to improve across the board. He got pushed around at the point of attack at times last year and also had trouble getting penetration. He has to get better at getting off blocks also.

Pink is heading into his 3rd year in the program, so it’s go time for him. With the 3 DTs in front of him gone after next season, their should be more reps than usual for the 2s, 3s, and 4s as the staff develops their preliminary succession plan.

Jordan Williams, Josh Belk, Darnell Jeffries

That means Jordan Williams, Josh Belk and Darnell Jeffries will have the opportunity to learn and impress.  I think Belk and Jeffries both have an opportunity to avoid a redshirt in the fall. Only one will likely avoid the shirt, but it’s possible they both do in order to give them game snaps next season.

Spring will be the lecture and Fall will be the test. How fast can they learn and how physically ready are they to handle the ACC?

Richard Yeargin, Chris Register, Xavier Kelly, Justin Foster

Richard Yeargin missed the 2017 season with a neck injury from a car accident he was in. He will probably hold off on contact drills until the fall. We certainly could’ve used him as the season wore on.

I thought Xavier Kelly regressed from the spring to the fall. Like Sterling Johnson at DT, he is a muscle player when Venables wants speed and athleticism. Kelly has the goods and I’m hoping last year was just a technique reboot where he took one step backwards to take two steps forward.

Kelly’s regression allowed true freshmen Logan Rudolph and Justin Foster to jump up as the 4th DE. I thought Foster was a little lost out there last year early on, but he did show signs of life late in the season. He caught my attention against Miami a couple times.

Chris Register is still here, but I’m not sure if he will be in the fall. Register kind of saved us last year as the #3 DE. He knew what to do and where to go, it’s just that he’s not a Clemson-DE caliber athlete. He can be beaten to the edge and doesn’t offer much pass rush at all. I have him listed at 3rd team right now, and that’s with him ahead of Xavier Thomas, which probably definitely won’t happen. We have so many superior athletes at DE and have to find Ferrell and Bryant’s replacements, so I’m not sure he would want to hang around if he’s not going to play.

Logan Rudolph, Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry

Speaking of superior athletes, here are three of them right here.

Last spring, Logan Rudolph was good in the spring game at WLB. Then, with Yeargin’s injury, Rudolph moved back to his natural position at DE and was even better there (while playing hurt, I should add). I’m interested to see how he progresses, and not so much in the spring, but in the fall. Rudolph has that Jack Youngblood vibe of toughness, motor, and more power than he should have for his size.

Had Ferrell and Bryant not come back, the staff might’ve been preparing Xavier Thomas to start game one. They won’t have to do that now. He’s going to get a lot of attention this spring, but there’s no need for him to be the man from day one. He’s a phenomenal athlete and it’s going to happen for him if he works hard.

I’d like to see K.J. Henry redshirt in 2018 if he’s still around 235. We have 5 WDEs right now, so this spring, I’m not sure if Henry will even get a real opportunity to show what he can do.

2017 Season Preview

Fall Camp DL Depth Chart

SDE: Austin Bryant, Xavier Kelly, Richard Yeargin

WDE: Clelin Ferrell, Richard Yeargin, LaSamuel Davis

DT: Christian Wilkins, Albert Huggins, Jabril Robinson

DT: Dexter Lawrence, Nyles Pinckney, Sterling Johnson

Clelin Ferrell

 Three starting spots on the DL are set in stone heading into fall camp. Those three studs, Ferrell, Wilkins, and Lawrence, are All American candidates and their place in the lineup is secure. The battle in fall camp is for the SDE position and the 2-deep spots.

I think Austin Bryant gets the opportunity to pick back up where he left off after his freshman year. He was great against Oklahoma and solid against Alabama in 2015 after Shaq went down. The light had seem to come on for him as he appeared to add toughness against the run overnight to his speed-rush game.  Unfortunately, that Austin Bryant hasn’t been seen since. Perhaps that’s due to the injury. Will he re-emerge in fall camp?

The backup DT battle is going to be interesting.  Based on past decision making from the staff, the guy with the least amount of ability is going to get the most opportunity.  Huggins is a fantastic athlete with the most upside, but he is not the same level of football player that the other 3 backups are. Now that we need quality depth, will he continue to get opportunities over better players?

 DL Season Depth Chart

SDE: Xavier Kelly or Austin Bryant, Richard Yeargin

WDE: Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Richard Yeargin

DT: Christian Wilkins, Albert Huggins, Jabril Robinson

DT: Dexter Lawrence, Nyles Pinckney, Sterling Johnson

There are some nuances to playing SDE that Bryant has and Kelly doesn’t. However, Kelly is a better SDE despite them because of his power advantage. Unless he reestablishes the fundamentals against the run that we saw against OU, Bryant is a feast or famine type of speed player that likes to chase.  I see Bryant as the primary backup at both DE spots and initial starter at SDE.

I’m at a loss when it comes to the DT rotation. I have mine below, but it doesn’t seem to jive with what the staff thinks. So I will reluctantly go with the status quo of everybody moving up based on where we were last year at this time. I should mention that much like the WR position, it’s going to be hard to mess this up.

The Kraken DL Depth Chart

SDE: Christian Wilkins, Xavier Kelly, Richard Yeargin

WDE: Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Jordan Williams

DT: Dexter Lawrence, Jabril Robinson, Albert Huggins

DT: Sterling Johnson, Nyles Pinckney, Christian Wilkins

Dexter Lawrence

Initially, I was not for the move of Wilkins to SDE last year. Then when Xavier Kelly got hurt to go along with Austin Bryant’s foot injury, I changed my mind. Wilkins was excellent at SDE last year, and frankly, I don’t think we have anybody on his level.  In the NFL, Wilkins probably projects as a 3-4 DE (a la J.J. Watt/Muhammad Wilkerson/Casey Heyward), so there shouldn’t be a career based motive for him to want to play 3-technique in a 4-3.  Bryant would be Ferrell’s backup and the heir apparent at WDE after he departs the program early.

In my opinion, and apparently nobody else’s, Johnson is equal to Wilkins as a DT.  He has less speed but more power and surprising ability to carry OL laterally to the ball…and he hasn’t even played meaningful snaps yet. What could he be with some game reps?  Huggins would drop down into the 5th spot in the rotation with Robinson and Pinckney being the primary backups. However, with Pagano transferring to Oregon, an injury to Lawrence or Johnson would call for a move back to DT for Wilkins.


Pre-Spring 2017


Outside of maybe Quarterback, the Defensive Line has been the most impressive position group over the past 3 years. I’m not sure there is a team in the country with a better run of DL talent since 2014.  Once again, the Defensive Front faces some major losses in both 1-techniques, Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano, and even more importantly, the losses of DT coach Dan Brooks (retirement) and DE coach Marion Hobby (Jaguars).

Here was my early look at 2017 from last June.


William and Michael Dean Perry

Early Look at 2017

This is starting to be a recurring theme during this feature but, we lose only one guy, Carlos Watkins.  I can foresee us losing Pagano as well if he has already graduated and doesn’t want to come back to reprise a backup role. The rest of the 2016 DL returns in 2017. I would obviously project Dexter Lawrence to take over Watkins spot at DT.  I could also project that we should be better overall and with more depth in 2017 than we were in 2016 (knock on wood). We should probably be a little light on DT signees next year because of this so, now we’re playing the developmental game with S&C, Brooks, and Hobby.

Defensive Tackle

Clemson moved from a 5 man rotation to a 3 man rotation due to Wilkins playing DE all season. Albert Huggins would play as the 4th, but he only played a series per game.  It will be interesting to see how many of our DTs get meaningful snaps. I think it’s possible that we go back to 5 or even a 6 man rotation. The most pressing need is finding a run-stuffing NG to replace Pagano in the rotation. Although, “need” might be a strong word with the level of talent we return in 2017.

Jim Stuckey

Jim “Stick ‘Em” Stuckey

Christian Wilkins has moved back to his natural position of DT and the most educated guess would have Dexter Lawrence sliding over to NG. No matter what technique they play, both players are franchise DTs with 1st round NFL potential. These players are known commodities and arguably the two best DTs in the ACC. So, I’m not going to spend a whole lot talking about them.  Perhaps the only thing I should point out is that I still expect Wilkins to kick out to DE in the dime package and I also expect him to forego his senior year for the NFL.

With Pagano’s departure, the depth at DT that may give some of us pause.  That leaves only 6 scholarship DTs on the roster.  Albert Huggins has been given the most opportunity over the past two seasons and has seen the most playing time amongst the backups.  In my opinion, Huggins has largely been a creation of predetermined opportunity and hasn’t actually won his spot in the pecking order.  Huggins is a good athlete and probably compares favorably to D.J. Reader in his ability to chase the ball, but also like Reader, he can be moved out of his gap too easily at times. He is probably not the ideal guy to fill the role that Pagano vacated but, I’m not sure we have an ideal guy on the roster.


Vic “Beastly” Beasley

From a skill set standpoint, Nyles Pinckney might be the best option to replace Pagano at NG. Pinckney also profiles as a more athletic 3-tech but he has demonstrated a higher level of fundamentals and toughness than Huggins.  Pinckney plays with a lower pad level and that would indicate he is less prone to being driven out of his gap. Pinckney was a nice surprise as an early enrollee last year. His technique was night and day between high school and the spring game. I thought he out-played Huggins in the spring game and I’m sure the staff had more of a discussion than they planned about whether or not he should redshirt.  He has apparently drawn comparisons to Grady Jarrett in his style of play and I can see that.  Grady was quick and low off the ball, could shoot the hips in a way where the OL couldn’t recover, and teams would have trouble double teaming him as well.  Of all the skills Grady had, though, I hope Pinckney has his motor. If Pinckney can combine technique with Pagano’s selflessness, he could get 300 snaps this year and possibly surpass Huggins as the heir apparent to Wilkins spot in 2018.


Chester McGlockton

The wild card that could jump in the mix would be Sterling Johnson.  Johnson has the power and body control to be as good of a DT as we have on the roster.  He has been shockingly good in the past two spring games and, as “President of the Sterling Johnson Fan Club,” I see him as a Carlos Watkins II in the making.  Unfortunately, in the actual games he played in this year, he showed a weak motor and a lack of hustle. He would basically give up if the play went away from him. It was painful to watch. I can’t tell if he’s lazy or upset that he’s only playing in garbage time.  Either way, that attitude won’t fly in a culture that is all about attitude.  The ideal situation is that the staff has given him a little “heart to heart” about his attitude and that Johnson will be see the light.   I think if he comes out this spring, jumps through the hoops, and gives everything he’s got, all will be forgotten. If he can’t do that, he probably needs to find another program.

Throughout his career, Jabril Robinson has toggled between DE and DT. With our depth issues last year, Robinson moved over to DE help out.  This year, I expect him to move back to DT to provide depth. He is a tweener with solid athleticism and is the kind of player that would probably dominate on the FCS level.

Defensive End

Clemson has embraced the term “WR U,” but it’s getting to the point where we need to think about calling ourselves, “DE U”  as well. The now departed Marion Hobby did a fantastic job of developing DEs during his 6 years here and roughly 50% of them are enjoying NFL careers.  The list of his DEs in the NFL is long: Andre Branch, Malliciah Goodman, Kourtnei Brown, Vic Beasley, Tarvaris Barnes, Shaq Lawson, and Kevin Dodd are currently active DEs in the NFL.


Shaq Lawson

Now that Hobby is gone, there has to be some trepidation about whether or not the Tigers can sustain the same level of success at DE moving forward.  The good news heading into the spring is that we have 7 true DEs on scholarship and that Clelin Ferrell was the best player on defense down the stretch last year.

Ferrell was a monster against Virginia Tech, Ohio State, and Alabama and based off those three performances, I expect him to be a preseason All ACC player heading into 2017. The only thing that would prevent that is that Wilkins and Lawrence might get the nod over him. So, before you ask, yes, we probably have the 3 best returning DL in the ACC and Ferrell may be the best of the bunch.  He has developed into the havoc inducing WDE that Venables likes and, if healthy, I expect him to be the ACC’s TFL leader this year.

For the 2nd year in a row, Austin Bryant should emerge from the spring as the starter. Bryant’s season was derailed last August with a broken foot and it forced the staff to move Christian Wilkins to DE. With 8 DEs now, that won’t be happening again and hopefully Bryant is at 100% in September.  Bryant is a WDE in a SDE’s body.  His best attribute is his bend and acceleration in his speed rush, but at SDE, he is required to be tough at the point of attack. He has shown that he is capable of doing so, but there have also been times where he hasn’t been as effective in that area as some of his predecessors.  This spring, he has real competition at SDE and it would not surprise me if the staff used him as a swing DE that is able play both positions.


Gaines Adams

Also getting derailed by injury in fall camp was Xavier Kelly.  Kelly is the total package as a SDE and I thought he was better as a high school senior than Bryant was as a true freshman at Clemson.  The coaches gushed about his ability in fall camp and the media gushed about his physical appearance.  Then he got hurt and the staff decided to redshirt him. I do not think the staff is going to list Kelly as the starter post-spring, but I do think he will solidify a spot in the two deep and play meaningful snaps this year.  Depending on how that goes, he could potentially take the starting job as the season moves on.

Somehow, Richard Yeargin still has two more years of eligibility left at Clemson. It seems like he’s been here forever, right?  Yeargin was once thought of as the pass rush specialist that was going to replace Vic Beasley at WDE.  That didn’t pan out, so Yeargin transformed his body and added the bulk he needed to holdup against the run. At 265, he has turned into a nice edge setter. Alabama went at him an entire series in the Natty and he punished them for doing so.  Yeargin could play either DE spot for us and I expect to see him be quality depth and log 200-300 snaps next year.

Chris Register, in my mind, is and has been an attrition candidate.  There is no doubt that he has improved and probably surprised some last year with that improvement, but at the DE position at Clemson, the staff is accustomed to rolling out NFL caliber talent and Register is just not that.  I expect him to be passed up by all 4 freshman eligibility DEs at some point.

I’ve called LaSamuel Davis a mini-Clowney before, but when he weighed in at 208 pounds last fall, I think I heard T.J. Chase say “Damn, he’s light.” Davis has all the athleticism and a full arsenal of sick pass rush moves (you don’t get to be a 4-star DE at 200 by not having skills).  It’s just that he will never see the field looking like Dorian O’Daniel’s little brother in pads.  As I’ve said before, he is so good, he could play at 235-240 but that seems like a couple years away right now.

“Lumberjack” Logan Rudolph is an early enrollee and he appears to come from the same place as Wilkins and Boulware, where he is part entertainer, part psycho on the field.  He’s bringing in a lot of toughness, but I expect him to be swimming initially and probably redshirt.  His most notable attribute so far is his comedic timing, as evidenced by his commitment video. So, like Wilkins and Boulware, he’s probably going to be a fan and media favorite. No need to worry, he can flip the switch like those two. Not sure about the quality of his suplex or “split game.”



The Defensive Line has been the most consistently great position group over the past few years.  We have seen some all-time Tiger greats come through the program over that time span.  Then we had to replace them all…and we put more all-time greats in their place.

2014: SDE-Corey Crawford, DT-DeShawn Williams, DT-Grady Jarrett, WDE-Vic Beasley

2015: SDE-Kevin Dodd, DT-Christian Wilkins, DT-Carlos Watkins, WDE-Shaq Lawson

This was reminiscent of the Ford era where we would lose star DL and their replacements would be just as effective.  When we switched to the HUNH strategy in 2011, one of the things that hurt the defense was the lack of depth up front. We were basically playing Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore the entire game and it wasn’t much better at DE with Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch playing almost the entire game as well.

The past two years, Venables has settled into a 5 man rotation at Defensive Tackle with the top 4 playing most of the snaps.  Those 4 will almost certainly be Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins, Scott Pagano, and Dexter Lawrence.  There are five different DTs fighting to be the 5th guy in that rotation. They are Albert Huggins, Sterling Johnson, Gage Cervenka, Nyles Pinckney, and Jabril Robinson.

Carlos Watkins is a brick wall that can occupy two blockers and drag a single OL down the line of scrimmage with ease.  He is a hole-clogger but I’d like to see him get better at shedding and making plays.

Christian Wilkins is the freakish athlete that can make plays.  There isn’t anything that he can’t do.  As he continues to develop the mental aspect of the game and his instincts, I expect him to emerge as our best DL this year and should challenge for first team All ACC honors. He might have to beat out Watkins for the honor though.

Scott Pagano has shown occasional bad habits in the past but when he’s on, he plays the game just like you’re watching him go through drills.  His technique can vary from terrible to flawless depending on what play you’re watching.  At his best, he fires off low, gets under OL’s pads, and drives them backwards wherever he wants to steer them. At his worst, he looks like he doesn’t belong on this level of college football.  It’s a weird thing to watch on film.

Have you heard that Dexter Lawrence is huge, yet?  He looks like a young Big Show from WWE out there dwarfing 290 pounders.  I picture children pointing at him, “Mommy, look at that guy!”  His pad level is high but his athletic gifts make him a formidable presence regardless.  The nation’s #2 overall player in high school will be on the field next year to develop as much as contribute.  If he can add technique and instincts to go along with his size and speed, look out.

I had high hopes for Albert Huggins development but, his progression does not seem to be where he can impact a game just yet.  He still gets pushed around and is more of a placeholder than a plus option at DT heading out of spring ball.  He shows he can beat the backup OL consistently but gets beat by the starters consistently.

Sterling Johnson is the guy that I think is most ready to be the 5th guy in the rotation. You never hear his name in the media, but all this guy does is defeat blocks and make plays.

Gage Cervenka and Nyles Pinckney showed that they were better than advertised in the spring game. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not there yet, but it was nice to see the extended depth. If it were my decision, I would redshirt Pinckney and Cervenka would battle Huggins for the all-important 6th spot on the depth chart this fall.

Jabril Robinson is in his third year in the program and in my opinion, it is unlikely that he is going to play here.  He is listed at 280 but I don’t know about that. He gets put on roller skates more than the other DTs.  He does have some quicks, but he has to give up position to get around guys sometimes which makes him easier to block. If it were me, I would advise him that a transfer (or possibly a move back to DE) would be his best move if he wanted to play.

Where we had 9 scholarship DTs on campus for spring ball, we only had 5 scholarship Defensive Ends.  I guess that’s what happens when you send 5 DEs to the NFL in a two year span. The question on everybody’s mind is “can we reload again?”

Austin Bryant is probably going to be the next big thing at DE. He was pressed into action when Shaq went down last year and showed minimal dropoff from Lawson.  He is Clemson’s best DE and he has shown the ability to be able to play either SDE or WDE which could prove to be valuable.

Speaking of versatility, Christian Wilkins was the talk of spring camp with his move to DE.  I think the excitement level for this move was misguided because it didn’t exactly mean what everybody was hoping. Dexter Lawrence is not so good as a true freshman that he is pushing Wilkins out to DE.  We are thin at DE because of all the attrition and Wilkins is still the most talented DT we have.  Wilkins can play DE, yes. There is no doubt about that.  Can he play extended reps though at his weight?  Do we really want to gas him out there by making him chase plays to where he plays less overall snaps? We’ll see how this unfolds as the season moves along but I’d prefer to see him there for a series or two a game at the most.

Clelin Ferrell exited spring ball as the starter at WDE. He showed fantastic closing speed in the spring game. He has a great burst.  He got gassed and endured a lull in production, but he came back in the 2nd half and played well again.  I think he will be a valuable commodity in the DE rotation as he continues his development.

Richard Yeagin was pushed around a good bit last year, but not this spring. He was strong at the point of attack and a proficient edge setter.  We keep waiting on his pass rushing ability to blossom but as of now, that is still a work in progress. Nevertheless, he can play and has earned a spot in the rotation.

Chris Register does his job, but doesn’t make plays. He’s proficient at defending the zone read and that’s it. I see him as a special teamer.

LaSamuel Davis has Jadeveon Clowney ability in Charone Peake’s body. He is a project that needs to redshirt and put on weight. Hopefully he maintains all of the explosiveness and balance that he shows now when he does add weight.

Now to my boy.  You already know that I really like Xavier Kelly to come in and pull reps at DE.  In my opinion, he was underrated as a 4-star which is saying something.  He is the total package. He is already 6’5″/255 with the length, leverage ability, and first step to play from day one. He was best DE I saw in the Army All Star Game and he quietly dominated the LTs there. He already has good technique so he isn’t going to need to be reprogrammed by Coach Hobby.  He just needs to learn his job on playcalls.  I am very hopeful that he can come in and do that because we need him. Ideally, he moves Wilkins back to DT full-time.

The current state of the Defensive Line is a B+. We are loaded at DT but we have depth issues at DE.

Kraken Depth Chart

SDE-Austin Bryant, DT-Christian Wilkins, DT-Carlos Watkins, WDE-Clelin Ferrell

SDE-Xavier Kelly*, DT-Dexter Lawrence, DT-Scott Pagano, WDE-Richard Yeargin

SDE-Christian Wilkins, DT-Sterling Johnson, DT-Albert Huggins, WDE-Chris Register

*True Freshman

Early Look at 2017

This is starting to be a recurring theme during this feature but, we lose only one guy, Carlos Watkins.  I can foresee us losing Pagano as well if he has already graduated and doesn’t want to come back to reprise a backup role. The rest of the 2016 DL returns in 2017. I would obviously project Dexter Lawrence to take over Watkins spot at DT.  I could also project that we should be better overall and with more depth in 2017 than we were in 2016 (knock on wood). We should probably be a little light on DT signees next year because of this so, now we’re playing the developmental game with S&C, Brooks, and Hobby.

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