As part of our season preview we’ve thrown a few questions to the writing staff to consider. The first of these questions, as well as some staff replies, can be found below.
Brian: There is obviously going to be a drop-off along the DL this year, but because of how Clemson has reloaded along the line most years, are we ignoring any real warning signs at DL? In particular what do y’all think the expectations are for this year, and where could we see some issues?
Dbbm: My first thought is that I’m going to be looking at how the defensive ends do moving in space. Venables likes being able to use his defensive ends like 3-4 defenses use outside linebackers, and with relative inexperience at both inside linebacker and defensive end we don’t know how those underneath zone players will hold up.
Colby: I don’t think warning signs are being ignored. It seems that every time we try to question the defense or the DL, Venables continues to prove us all wrong.
If there are warning signs we’re ignoring, it’s the interior. At this point, the only player we’ve seen the most of is Nyles Pinckney. Jordan Williams and converted DE Xavier Kelly appear to be the other top guys with early shots at extended PT. Behind them is a ton of young depth. With early tests against Texas A&M and a road game at Syracuse, the interior DL is probably the biggest area of concern outside of LB depth. Talented as they are, it takes time before they catch on and settle into their roles.
Expectations for this year will continue to be what they’ve been, in which you want Clemson to be among CFB’s leaders in sacks. With the depth at DE, the edge rush can still continue to be as explosive as it’s been in recent years. I’m excited about seeing guys like Mascoll, Rudolph, and Henry step up after a year.
Some issues we could see, especially early on in the season, is how effective the DL does against the run. For the past 2-3 years, teams couldn’t expect to run against Wilkins or Lawrence. Many people see the sacks, but they don’t see the extent to which both held the line against the run. Early games against A&M and Syracuse are going to test them while they gel. By midseason, I think they’ll be fine, but facing Mond from A&M plus a Syracuse team that’s given us trouble pretty much every year since Babers has been there in back-to-back games in September will be telling.
John McElhaney: It may look like the hallowed line is deteriorating a bit this year, but I don’t think anyone should be worried about the health of the line in the long run. The slew of talent coming in will erase any doubts about the future, as it’s going to be one of the biggest influxes of talent in program history. For right now though, expect more strong play from the defensive ends and maybe a bit of rotational weakness at defensive tackle, losing so much talent in one year ain’t easy.
That being said I think expectations will remain the same, even though the line may be thinner, fans will still expect the defensive line to act as the centerpiece of the defense, and creating havoc in the trenches. If Clemson is to win yet another national title (man that feels good to say) they’ll need a great performance out of the line, just like we got in 2018, and just like we got with that “thin” 2016 line.