The days are getting longer, but the wait for Clemson vs. Georgia is only getting shorter.
We highlighted Cole Stoudt and how important his performance will be for Clemson throughout the entire 2014 season. Today, we take a look at what is arguably Clemson’s strongest unit — their defensive front.
Clemson’s defensive line strength starts and finishes with their ends. Senior Vic Beasley recorded 13 sacks a year ago, and would have likely joined Sammy Watkins as a first round pick in this year’s NFL draft had he not decided to come back to school. Opposite Beasley is senior Corey Crawford, who recorded three sacks last season, but should benefit in 2014 from the extra attention Beasley will likely warrant.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Crawford is one of four players suspended for the season opener against Georgia. With Crawford unavailable for the game in Athens, Tavaris Barnes and Shaq Lawson are likely to see increased playing time. Barnes, another senior, recorded just one sack in 2013 in limited playing time. The knock on Barnes since he’s arrived in Clemson has been that he hasn’t put his full effort into his football ability. Apparently, that much has changed.
“So many people have been talking to me through my career, saying ‘it’s time to go.’ I had to talk to the man in the mirror, man,” Barnes was quoted as saying following April’s spring game. “The man in the mirror was holding me back. There ain’t no holding me back anymore. The world is mine.”
Those are certainly encouraging words, and following a spring game in which he recorded five sacks, Barnes seems to be serious. Head coach Dabo Swinney seems to feel that way.
“He’s just gotten focused. He got serious about it,” Swinney stated. “He knows he’s got the ability; I think he’s just finally figured that out and he’s trying to do everything he can to maximize this year. I’m pulling for him.”
With Crawford out for the season opener, Barnes could potentially be a huge piece for the Tigers come August 30th.
In addition to Barnes, Lawson too is looking for a big 2014 season. Lawson, an extremely talented sophomore, had four sacks last year as a freshman. He is poised to prove that Beasley isn’t the only Clemson Tiger that can take down the quarterback at a frantic clip.
Experience, experience, experience. That is what the defensive line is all about. In addition to three of the top four defensive ends being seniors, three of the top five defensive tackles are seniors. Seniors Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson will likely start on the interior for the Tigers, with sophomore Carlos Watkins backing up Jarrett and senior DeShawn Williams and junior D.J. Reader backing up Watson.
Jarrett is slightly undersized for a defensive tackle, standing at just 6’1″. What he lacks in size he makes up for in his stout frame, weighing in at close to 300 pounds. Jarrett’s low center of gravity gives him great leverage in going up against taller offensive linemen who can’t get as low to the ground.
Barnes says of the entire defensive front unit, “Vic’s a speed rusher, I’m more of a power rusher. Vic can flush him to me or I’ll flush him to Vic. Grady can get movement on guards or whatever. We definitely complement each other’s games. It’s dangerous. There’s no getting away from us.”
That it is and no there isn’t. If Clemson can get pressure from places other than Beasley, they will be a force to be reckoned with. ‘Dangerous’ may not even begin to scratch the surface. There is one proven double digit sack guy already on that line in Vic, and there might be another one or two that are ready to prove that they do in fact possess that same kind of talent.
As defensive coordinator Brent Venables puts it, “It’s a solid group that can cause disruption and collapse a pocket.”
Venables may be under selling that unit a little bit, but there is little doubt that they can all contribute together to be game changers in Athens against the Bulldogs and beyond.
Best In The Country?
One of the most intriguing story lines to keep an eye on in the fall will be how Clemson’s defensive front stacks up against the rest of the nation. The Tigers clearly already have one of the best individual defensive ends in all of college football in Beasley, and they may have a similar talent in Lawson. Crawford has been a solid contributor throughout his career, and may be motivated by missing the first game of his final season in trying to prove that he too can play on Sundays. Barnes seems to be the biggest x factor for the Clemson Tigers’ defensive line heading into the season. There is something very dangerous about a talented athlete like Barnes finally having the fire in his stomach lit. If he produces the way he looked capable of in the spring game, this defensive front just may be the best unit in the nation. They are led by seniors, including one potential first round pick, and are deep with talent after that. Expect big things in 2014 from this defensive line.
We’ll look at the plethora of Freshmen sprinkled all over the depth chart. Which ones have the best shot at seeing the field and which ones will have the biggest impact?