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Defensive End Recruiting Thoughts

Clemson came into the 2012 class in need of numbers and quality at defensive end.

To understand Clemson's needs at a position, it is important to look back at the way Clemson has recruited the position over recent classes. Over the past three years, Clemson has signed and enrolled three prospects who are currently slated to play defensive end.

2009- Malliciah Goodman

2010- Corey Crawford

2011- Joe Gore

Goodman and Crawford are both outstanding defensive end prospects, and should both be excellent players for Clemson over the next few seasons. Gore is also a very promising prospect, but his best potential may be as an offensive lineman when all is said and done. Considering that we have now lost him for 2011 due to the MCL tear and will RS, this switch may be forced on him later if he loses speed.

While the players Clemson has signed are talented, the Tigers do not project to have enough defensive ends on the roster to field a two deep going into next spring. Clemson needs to address those low numbers in the class of 2012 and also sign prospects who can contribute very early in their careers. Of course, the other side of that coin is that there should be plenty of playing time on the table for Clemson to sell to defensive end prospects in this class.

Clemson already has two prospects committed at defensive end. DW Daniel’s Shaq Lawson was one of Clemson’s first commitments for the class. A forgone conclusion to commit to Clemson the moment he got an offer, Lawson has not received many recruiting headlines to date, but he is a quality prospect. He is an excellent basketball player and partly due the amount of time he spends on basketball in the offseason, he is behind in the weight room when compared to other DE prospects. He does not have ideal height (listed between 6’2 and 6’3), and is not tremendously fast on a track, but he is very, very athletic and has long arms and big hands that make him an imposing pass rusher.

When he gets to Clemson he should be able to fill out to 250+lbs and play the bandit/weak side DE position.

Bamberg’s Martin Aiken was Clemson’s second defensive end commitment. Listed at 6’3 250lbs, Aiken also lacks ideal height, and he does not have the athleticism of Lawson. Aiken appears to be a tweener DE/DT prospect in the mold of current Tiger defensive tackle Rennie Moore. Aiken has been well developed physically and technically by his coaches at Bamberg, and is an outstanding high school defensive lineman. He has also been very effective at camps and combine settings against other D-1 prospects, and has accumulated quite a few recruiting accolades as a result. It will be an interesting storyline to see if he remains a strong side defensive end for Clemson, or if like Moore he develops into a 3-technique.

Clemson’s coaches appear willing to stand pat with these two commitments at defensive end as of right now. If those two prospects are the only two the Tigers bring in at defensive end, it would be reasonable to project both to avoid redshirts and possibly play from the 2-deep the day they set foot on campus out of a sheer lack of numbers. It would be fair to consider Lawson and Aiken the top two defensive line prospects in South Carolina for the 2012 class.

The main oversign target that Clemson is currently working at defensive end is Shelby NC’s Jonathan Bullard. Bullard is one of the top 5 prospects in North Carolina for this class and essentially brings the total package as a defensive line prospect as far as size, speed, strength and demeanor go. Bullard took a recent visit to Clemson and it appeared to make a good impression on him, but it is still fair to consider him a long shot recruit. If Bullard was to choose Clemson, he would almost assuredly either start or play a huge role in the defensive end rotation from the first day he stepped foot on campus. Bullard appears Florida-bound at the moment. Clemson was also recruiting Charlotte NC DE Romeo Okwara as an oversign, but he committed to Notre Dame earlier this week.

It has been rumored that Clemson would begin playing more of a 3 man front to hide this weakness at defensive end, and to accent the strengths of Clemson’s defensive line personnel, which currently features several tweeners in the mold of Moore and Aiken who would be considered better fits at defensive end in a 1-gap version of a 3-4 alignment. Even if this move does take place, there is still a significant depth issue at the Jack linebacker position(which is the key pass rush position in the 3-4 scheme and essentially the same position as weak side defensive end or bandit in our 4-3) and young players will need to be relied on heavily at that spot next year no matter what alignment the Tigers use.

That Clemson does not appear to think taking a third defensive end in this class is a priority, particularly another one that fits the weak side pass rushing mold, is somewhat surprising. It is an excellent year for the position in Georgia and there are also several other  BCS quality defensive end prospects in South Carolina this year. Clemson does not appear to be focusing on any at the moment however. It will be interesting to see what direction things go between Bullard and Clemson or if Clemson decides to try and make a run at another big time DE down the line in this class.