One Quick Thing: Clemson Football 2023 defensive line is better than 2022 defensive line

Sep 30, 2023; Syracuse, New York, USA; Clemson defensive end Xavier Thomas (3) celebrates sacking Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader (6) during the third quarter at JMA Wireless Dome. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2023; Syracuse, New York, USA; Clemson defensive end Xavier Thomas (3) celebrates sacking Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader (6) during the third quarter at JMA Wireless Dome. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports /

Clemson Football expected transition this season along their defensive line. While they did get some good news about the returns of players like Tyler Davis, Xavier Thomas, Ruke Orhorhoro, and Justin Mascoll, many nationally thought it didn’t matter who returned, but who left.

Myles Murphy and Brian Bresee were both first-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. KJ Henry was a Day 3 pick. Common sense says that a line that loses three NFL-caliber players is going to take a step back.

I’m not really one who likes hot takes because I think most of them are cheap and delivered just to be a fishhook, but sometimes one just hits me. I might not deliver it as steaming hot as others might. Sometimes I let it cool to make sure it isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction, but this one has been brewing since this spring and now we are five games into the season. It’s time.

The 2023 defensive line is better than the 2022 defensive line.

There, I said it.

This is not an opinion formed on stats. I haven’t crunched the stats per game for this line versus last year. This is an opinion based simply on my perception of how this defensive line impacts the games.

I was underwhelmed by last year’s line. First, I want to acknowledge that Bresee went through a year of pure hell. Honestly, his whole Clemson career was snakebit.

  • 2020: COVID
  • 2021: Injury
  • 2022: Year of pure hell

I have a lot of respect for him, so please don’t misunderstand this as shots fired, but for reasons beyond anyone’s control, Clemson never got Bresee’s best.

There was simply no way a man could go through what he went through and maximize his potential. That isn’t his fault at all, and I am rooting for him in the NFL. He might be the best defensive tackle in the pros in a year or two.

I have been and continue to be a Henry fan. He had me at hello, and for me, that was his commitment announcement, which was pure class. I also respected his humbleness when he proposed to redshirt as a freshman.

I can’t deny Murphy’s talent. He was masterful at some phases of the college game. He has prototype pro size. He’s in the NFL for a reason. Plus he has a great smile. When he smiles, it makes me smile. He is a good dude.

I like all three of those guys on a personal level. For some reason, it just never came together on the field as a unit in 2022.

The 2023 Clemson Football defensive line is better than the 2022 group because they are impacting the game

The bottom line for me is that the 2022 defensive line wasn’t impactful to the game most of the time. They weren’t disruptive. I felt they rarely made a difference. They were there. They weren’t a liability. That was it.

I mentioned a few times that I wasn’t blown away by with Nick Eason’s first season in Clemson as defensive line coach. That wasn’t a popular opinion considering how beloved he is by most Clemson fans and the great job he is doing as a recruiter.

There were so many times last year that I wondered why the most-hyped position group on the team wasn’t making a real difference for the Tigers. If you are going to give yourselves a nickname like ‘The Avengers’, then avenge something. I saw very little avenging.

This 2023 line started a bit quiet against Duke, but since then they have been fantastic. They have made an impact on the game. They disrupted Jordan Travis and the Florida State defense, giving the Clemson defensive backs an advantage against Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman. They set the tone for the Syracuse game early with two turnovers in the first quarter.

I keep going back to a quote from defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall:

He never specified who he was talking about. I had my theory that it might have been about a player from the 2022 line, but in hindsight, maybe it was more about the group as a whole.

I won’t argue with someone who has a differing opinion and justifies their argument with statistical comparisons or metrics. As I said, I haven’t crunched those numbers to a significant extent.

Base on what I have seen to this point, I’ll take this year’s defensive line and what they are doing for this team this season. I am sold on what Coach Eason and Coach Hall have cooking so far.

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