The Clemson Tigers have a long tradition of talented defensive players, especially in the trenches along the defensive line. This season’s unit may go down as one of the best to play at the school. Winning at the line of scrimmage, is often one of the biggest keys to a team’s success. Knowing that makes it easy to see why the Tigers are set up for another big year.
Former players like Chester McGlockton, William and Michael Dean Perry, Brenston Buckner and Trevor Pryce starred for the Tigers in the trenches before going to the NFL. More recently players like Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson, and Andre Branch have taken that same path. The lineage of dominant defensive lineman in orange is a good one, and this year’s group looks poised to join it.
Meet And Greet
The 2017 defensive line is led by tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. Wilkins is versatile enough to play inside a tackle and on the edge if needed. He had 13 tackle for loss and 3.5 sacks a season ago, and has three sacks already in 2017.
Lawrence is a monster of a man, at 6’5” and 340 pounds he is a wall in the middle of the line. Junior Austin Bryant is the sack master of the group at defensive end. He has five sacks already in this young season. Sophomore Clelin Ferrell had six sacks as a freshman, but has only brought the quarterback down once so far this season. Defensive tackle Albert Huggins is the main producer off the bench for the Tigers.
In Your Backfield
Clemson has made a living in opponents backfields over the past few seasons. Of course their offensive prowess with Deshaun Watson has gotten the most of the recognition. It is their ability to dominant in the trenches has allowed them to move from a good to great football team. The Tigers lead all of college football in tackles for a loss over the last four seasons. Stopping plays before they reach the line of scrimmage can paralyze opposing offenses. The Tigers had 11 sacks in a win over Auburn. They also provided constant harassment of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in a beat down of the Louisville Cardinals.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ defense is predicated on putting offenses under constant pressure. When you can put opponents behind the chains on early downs, it hampers their ability to pick up first downs and sustain drives. The added pressure of blitzing is a good tool. However, if you have a defensive line that can create disruption on its own, it bolsters the entire defense. When you have a player like Wilkins that can play multiple spots along the line, formulating a plan to stop block them becomes even harder.
Clemson currently ranks third in the country in yards and points allowed per game. Along with the Michigan Wolverines, they are the only Power Five schools to rank in the top twelve nationally in both passing and rushing yards allowed per contest. It all starts in the trenches for the Tigers. They force negative plays in the run game and by sacking the quarterback. Being able to do this with only the four defensive linemen means more players can help in coverage on the back end.
There have been a lot of great defensive lineman fight in the trenches for Clemson over the years. This current group is hoping led this team back to the College Football Playoff. They can possibly go down as one of the best defensive lines in program history.