If there’s one thing the Clemson defense has been known for since the arrival of Brent Venables, it’s their ability to get after the quarterback. For several years running, this Tiger defense has been one of the nation’s best when it comes to sacks.
With the 2019 season fast approaching, and Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant both now playing in the NFL, it’s time for the next set of young pass rushers to make their mark on this program. With the talent this coaching staff has accrued at defenseive end, there has been no shortage of competition during camp so far.
Former five star recruits Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry are the two guys that get a lot of the attention from fans and media alike, and rightfully so. However, there are other players who could be set for breakout years.
One of those players is Justin Foster. The junior out of Shelby NC is a former four star recruit that was ranked the 156th best player overall in the 2017 class per the 247 Composite. He is the team’s most experienced end, playing in 24 games as a reserve the past two seasons.
Outside of getting after the QB, Foster has shown he is capable of defending the run, and even dropping back into coverage on occasion. He has waited his turn while learning from some of the best, and is poised to become one of the anchors along that front four.
Another guy that should see plenty of time this season is Logan Rudolph. He was also a four star recruit in the 2017 class but isn’t quite as seasoned as Foster. After missing most of the 2017 season injured and receiving a medical redshirt, he has logged just 163 snaps in 16 games.
Rudolph has really impressed so far in camp and is supposedly pushing Xavier Thomas for a starting spot. After last Saturday’s scrimmage Brent Venables was very complimentary of Rudolph, mentioning his non stop motor and playing much bigger than his weight of 249 lbs might suggest, while comparing his style of play to former LB Ben Boulware.
Justin Mascoll is a guy that also should see plenty of playing time. He is another former four star recruit and was a top 150 player overall in the 2018 class. After redshirting in last season, he has the speed, quickness, and athleticism that all good pass rushers have.
That brings us to the two former five star guys from the 2018 class, Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry. XT saw plenty of time as a freshman and gave fans glimpses of just how dominant he can be. He still needs to get better with his run defense, but that will come.
KJ Henry is coming off of a redshirt and by all accounts is now starting to look the part. Venables recently told the media he was very happy his progress but that he still has another step to take. Expect to see him learning “on the job,” and for him to get better as the season progresses, and he gets settled in.
After the first scrimmage of camp on Saturday, Brent Venables said about his defensive ends, “We have a group of four or five of them that I think they are all co-starters when it is said and done. That is our expectation. That is my anticipation.”
For now, it seems like we are looking at a rotation of four, maybe five guys. It’s hard to ask for a better situation than that when you’re looking at having to replace both starters from the previous season. This team might not lead the nation in sacks in 2019, but it still should rank right up there with the best.