On Monday we looked at how the Clemson offense will most likely line up on September 12 when they travel up to Winston Salem for a 7:30 PM showdown with Wake Forest on ABC. Today we look at the other side of the ball.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables once again is looking to have a dominant defense. The Tigers led the ACC and ended up ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, was third in the country in scoring defense, and allowed fewer than 17 points to everyone but North Carolina (20), Ohio State (23) and LSU (42) last season.
One of the biggest voids that the Tigers will have to fill is the loss of leading tackler Isaiah Simmons (the nation’s best linebacker last year), who will be suiting up for the Arizona Cardinals this fall. There’s no way to replace an athletic “freak“ like Isaiah Simmons but senior James Skalski is back and that is a good thing.
Skalski finished second on the team with 90 tackles. He is a dependable all around tackler on the inside and that will ease the inside presence a little more. This still leaves the outside area that will have to be filled in after not only the departure of Simmons but also third leading tackler Chad Smith.
Junior Baylon Spector came up with his share of plays in the rotation and has shown great ability as he has moved from the SAM (Strongside) Linebacker position to the WILL (Weakside) Linebacker. This will help ease the loss of Simmons as well.
Mike Jones has solidified his spot as the Tigers starting SAM linebacker and, even more so, has proven he can be a three down backer. This will allow him to stay on the field, if necessary, when the Tigers go to their nickel packages. No, he is not Isaiah Simmons but he doesn’t have to be. He has reminded the Clemson coaches a lot of Dorian O’Daniel, who was an All American for the Tigers in 2017.
Then Dabo and his staff will have to deal with the fact that corner AJ Terrell is gone and so are safeties K’Von Wallace, Tanner Muse and Denzell Johnson. Derion Kendrick is all that’s left from the Clemson’s secondary.
Kendrick is a good one, nabbing second team All-ACC honors in his first season playing the position, and the Tigers definitely have more than enough talent on this team to fill out the rest of the spots. Senior Nolan Turner is back, after having 48 tackles last year. Andrew Booth Jr, Sheridan Jones, Mario Goodrich, and Malcolm Green will all be battling for playing time and it is going to be exciting to watch this group grow over the season.
Another group that is going to be exciting to watch this season will be the defensive line. After having zero depth last season, it is just that deep now.
Xavier Thomas was overdue to blossom into stardom on one side. It is still up in the air as to how much he will play, given the new NCAA waiver that will allow him to play without it affecting his status for next year. That means he can play when he’s ready, instead of redshirting and playing in just four games.
Then the Tigers have K.J. Henry and Justin Foster, who many feel is already an All ACC-caliber player on the other side. Clemson also has star freshman Myles Murphy, who many feel can make an immediate impact lining up behind Foster. This is how the exterior of the line should look.
Venables has a pair of studs along the interior again. Tyler Davis and Nyles Pinckney have the talent and the ability to prove that they are the nation’s best defensive tackle tandem. They also have super recruits Bryan Bresee, who seems to get more praise by the day. There is also DeMonte Capehart lining up behind them at this point.
In other words, the Clemson defensive cupboard is fully stocked, despite all the changes. Add in that Venables can now go back to the traditional 4-3 that he has used to wreak havoc on offenses in the past, and all you can say to opponents is hide the women and children.