Did defensive ends' performance give Clemson Football reason to pause on a position change for Peter Woods?

Dabo Swinney announced that Peter Woods would move to defensive end for the 2024 season but the performance of the other ends might indicate there is more talent there than we realized.
Clemson defensive end A.J. Hoffler (99) pressures Clemson quarterback Trent Pearman (14) during the
Clemson defensive end A.J. Hoffler (99) pressures Clemson quarterback Trent Pearman (14) during the / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the things observers were watching this spring for Clemson Football was the battle for playing time at defensive end. TJ Parker established himself as an up-and-coming star at the position for Clemson last year, but the other two primary ends (Xavier Thomas and Justin Mascoll) both exhausted eligibility.

At his pre-spring press conference, head coach Dabo Swinney announced that Peter Woods would be playing defensive end this spring. Naturally, we presumed he would be the starter next to Parker. That might still be the case, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to see how Woods was adapting in the spring game. Woods was ruled out with mononucleosis.

In the meantime, the other defensive ends got their chance to show how they have progressed, and several got their names called on Saturday.

AJ Hoffler was the first to make an impression early in the game. He had one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss on the day. He was tied for second on the Orange defense with five total tackles. I forget sometimes how big Hoffler is at 6’-4”. He seemed to tower over the offensive line, and they aren’t small.

Next up was Cade Denhoff (four tackles) with a couple of impact plays (including a pass breakup) in the first quarter for the White team. Zaire Patterson (three tackles) also got his name called a couple of times as the game progressed.

The biggest play of the day from the defensive ends came in the fourth quarter from Jaheim Lawson, who had two tackles on the day. With the White in the red zone, Lawson went into pass coverage against a wheel route run by David Eziomume. Lawson climbed a ladder and intercepted the pass from quarterback Chris Vizzina.

Did the performance of the defensive ends perhaps give the coaching staff a reason to pause on Woods’s move to defensive end? It’s a conversation worth having.

On one hand, I don’t personally think the defensive tackles gave the staff any reason to think that there is a greater need for Woods at tackle. They performed well overall.

On the other hand, if Woods’s most natural position is tackle, and the staff has seen enough from the ends to feel comfortable, it makes sense to put Woods where he would be most effective.

We don’t know what the staff saw in the closed practices, but there is one piece of circumstantial evidence that suggests that they didn’t need to see the spring game to have confidence in the defensive end room.

Clemson Football might have passed on a defensive end from the portal because they knew players like AJ Hoffler and Jaheim Lawson were further along than publicly known

Many observers, including myself, thought it was a lock that the Tigers would pursue a defensive end from the transfer portal this past winter. The Tigers elected to stick with the guys they had and didn’t even attempt to pursue a transfer. I thought that was a mistake, and I wasn’t the only one.

Though the spring game is only a glimpse of the body of work the staff has seen from these four defensive ends we mentioned, it does hint that they had seen their potential in practices as far back as last season. That would be why they didn’t feel a transfer was needed.

The next hurdle, of course, is the upcoming transfer portal window when players can leave for other opportunities. That could also impact whether Woods will stick at defensive end or bounce back to defensive tackle. Hopefully, we won’t see any exits from the ends group.