Sunday’s announcement from safety Nolan Turner that he would return for a sixth season at Clemson means the Tigers will return all 11 starters from their 2020 defense.
Clemson’s defense seemed poised to lose two or three key players, but the off-season has delivered good news. Weakside linebacker Baylon Spector started the trend, electing to return for a fifth season shortly after the Tigers were eliminated from the College Football Playoff.
Cornerback Derion Kendrick eschewed an early departure for the NFL to return for his 4th season. He has a chance to become a true lockdown corner and a first round draft pick. The quarterback of the defense, middle linebacker Jamie Skalski announced his return for a sixth season, something the NCAA is uniquely allowing this year due to COVID-19.
The final straw in returning the entire defense, safety Nolan Turner, announced he would return for one more season.
Turner doesn’t have the star power of James Skalski or the NFL upside of Derion Kendrick, but getting him back for another year is a huge boost, as some of the young safeties have yet to find their groove. Nolan Turner received the highest PFF rating of Clemson’s safeties by a wide margin.
Clemson still needs to get better on the defensive line, but after starting two freshmen and a sophomore, the added year of experience could be key. Additionally, if the Tigers can get a healthy Justin Foster or Xavier Thomas back and able to start at defensive end opposite Myles Murphy, they should see an uptick in their pass rush.
Opposing coaches found new ways to counteract Coach Brent Venables defensive genius this season by getting plays off before he can send in adjustments. He’ll surely study and make some changes to adapt, and having a veteran defense will make it all the smoother.
There’s are still some questions for the Clemson Tigers - particularly improving the offensive line play - but the Tigers may be better positioned than anyone for 2021.