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2015 Clemson Football Season Preview: Defensive Line

Some young players will have some big shoes to fill on Clemson's defensive line this year.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the defensive line may have been the strength of the Tigers' top ranked defense. This year, however, the unit has some big question marks.

Player Position Year Height Weight Star Rankings Games Games Started Solo Tackles Assisted Tackles Tackles for Loss Total Tackles Sacks QB Hurries
Shaq Lawson DE Junior 6'3" 272 4 13 1 15 19 11.5 34 3.5 3
Martin Aiken DE R Junior 6'2" 255 4 12 0 3 3 1.5 6 1 0
Dane Rogers DE R Sophomore 6'3" 269 3 4 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
Kevin Dodd DE R Junior 6'5" 268 3 12 0 5 3 2.5 8 0 0
Richard Yeargin DE R Freshman 6'4" 254 3
Clelin Ferrell DE Freshman 6'5" 257 4
Austin Bryant DE Freshman 6'5" 268 4
LaSamuel Davis DE Freshman 6'4" 215 4
Chris Register DE R Freshman 6'2" 248 4

Clemson already had to face the tough task of having to replace Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, who are now both in their home state of Georgia playing for the Falcons. Add to that the loss of other key players, such as Corey Crawford, and it gets even tougher. Additionally, a few guys who were supposed to soften the blow are not currently with the team, making the question mark even bigger. Defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko was kicked off the team after an arrest. Ogundeko looked to have earned one of the starting end positions in the spring. More recently, would-be starting defensive tackle DJ Reader decided to take a leave of absence from the team, opening up another starting position. Reader may return at some point, but for now he is out. For the Tigers to be successful, they will need some young guys to step up and be ready to play on the defensive line.

Player Position Year Height Weight Star Rankings Games Games Started Solo Tackles Assisted Tackles Tackles for Loss Total Tackles Sacks QB Hurries
D.J. Reader DT Senior 6'2" 321 3 12 1 5 12 2.5 17 1.5 2
Carlos Watkins DT R Junior 6'3" 296 4 11 0 3 5 2 8 0 1
Scott Pagano DT R Sophomore 6'3" 290 4 4 0 3 1 0 4 0 1
Jabril Robinson DT R Freshman 6'3" 267 3
Albert Huggins DT Freshman 6'3" 286 4
Sterling Johnson DT Freshman 6'5" 284 3
Gage Cervenka DT Freshman 6'3" 301 3
Christian Wilkins DT Freshman 6'4" 299 5
Roderick Byers DT R Senior 6'3" 281 3

The big positive is that Shaq Lawson is returning. Lawson is a beast who has played well in the rotation of defensive ends over the past few years. On the other side, it looks as if Kevin Dodd has emerged as the starter. True freshman Sterling Johnson will most likely also be in the defensive end rotation, and may even work his way into a starting role during the season. Defensive tackle has a little more to work with, despite the loss of Reader, Jarrett, Josh Watson, and Deshawn Williams. Carlos Watkins will get his time to shine after playing behind some talented players over the past few years. Tiger fans will also probably see Scott Pagano playing more often. As with the defensive end position, the DTs could be calling on a freshman to step up. Albert Huggins, a 4 star recruit from Orangeburg, will also be seeing more playing time than expected, and looks to help fill in some of the gaps.

While everyone knew replacing all of the seniors from last year's line would be tough, it got even tougher with the unexpected departures. The Tigers like to say "We Too Deep," so this year we will see just how deep the defensive line really is. The talent is there, it just may take a few games for it to come together. Fortunately, starting with Wofford and Appalachian State should allow these guys to grow and get used to being big time college players before the conference schedule starts. It may be rough for a while, but I think these players will be able to step up to the challenge and give us reason to be proud.