Projected Starters: Defense

by - Staff Writer -
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Shaq Lawson is in line to be Clemson's next great defensive end

Spring practice begins next week and several position battles are up in the air as the Tigers begin a month-long process that ends with the annual spring game on April 11th. Before we head into the spring, however, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what I think the starting lineups would look like if the season started today.

There is a still a lot of time before the Tigers take the field against Wofford in early September, however several of the defensive signees are already on campus and will get a chance to prove what they can do. Orangeburg (SC) defensive lineman Albert Huggins, Sterling (VA) linebacker Chad Smith, Charlotte (NC) defensive back Van Smith and Greenwood (SC) defensive back Kaleb Chalmers enrolled in January along with the three grayshirts – J.D. DavisJ.D. Davis
Fr. Linebacker
# 6-2, 215
Central, SC

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, Judah DavisJudah Davis
Fr. Linebacker
# 6-2, 215
Central, SC

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and Jalen WilliamsJalen Williams
Fr. Linebacker
# 6-0, 215
Blythewood, SC

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.

But here is an early guess at what a starting lineup would look like for the defense:

DEFENSIVE END

*Shaq LawsonShaq Lawson
So. Defensive End
#90 6-3, 269
Central, SC

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. Lawson is the one player that is most poised to take over one of the starting spots at defensive end. The Central (SC) native will fill in nicely at the spot vacated by Vic BeasleyVic Beasley
RS Sr. Defensive End
#3 6-2, 236
Adairsville, GA

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and can take over as that rush end that has been so productive for Clemson over the last couple of years. As a backup in 2013 and 2014, Lawson accounted for 79 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 14 quarterback pressures in 632 snaps over 26 games. At 6-3, 275 Lawson is a bigger body and should be even better at stopping the run. The only question about Lawson is can he consistently show up and perform at a high level. We’ve heard that he is ready to step in a take over as one of the leaders on defense, but he will have to do that on and off the field.

*Kevin DoddKevin Dodd
RS So. Defensive End
#98 6-5, 275
Taylors, SC

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. The redshirt sophomore from Greer (SC) has played sparingly during his three seasons at Clemson. In 2013 he suffered a season ending toe injury but received a medical redshirt giving him an extra year of eligibility. Dodd isn’t as entrenched at the defensive end spot as Lawson, but he has the most experience of any of the other ends on the roster. He has 21 tackles, three tackles for loss and four quarterback pressures in 219 snaps over 24 games. At 6-5, 275 Dodd has the size to be more than capable but will need to take that next step.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

*D.J. ReaderD.J. Reader
Jr. Defensive Tackle
#48 6-2, 322
Greensboro, NC

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. Reader came to Clemson as a three-sport athlete and tried playing both football and baseball at Clemson before realizing that he need to put all of his focus into football in order to successful. He has played significant snaps during all three years that he’s been on campus but should be out to prove his worth heading into his senior season. Reader plays both ways but has primarily served as a backup defensive tackle the last three years. At 330 pounds, Reader can be a force on the inside of Clemson’s defensive line. Reader has 110 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 21 quarterback pressures and one pass breakup in 828 snaps over 38 games (four starts) in his career

*Carlos WatkinsCarlos Watkins
RS So. Defensive Tackle
#94 6-3, 294
Mooresboro, NC

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. Defensive tackles coach Dan BrooksDan Brooks
Assoc. Head Coach / Def. Tackles
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will be looking to replace talented depth after the departure of several NFL prospects and Watkins can be just the guy to fill that void. Watkins received a medical redshirt in 2013 after suffering a leg injury in a car accident that killed one of his best friends. Before the accident, Watkins earned the starting job coming out of fall camp in the season opener against Georgia and had 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the first three games of the season. Watkins played in 11 games last season but was still trying to heal from the physical and emotional scars left by the accident. He has 40 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback pressures in 336 snaps over 23 games (one start) in his career, but may feel pressure from reserve Scott PaganoScott Pagano
RS Fr. Defensive Tackle
#56 6-4, 292
Honolulu, HI

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during the spring if he doesn’t come out and make an early statement.

LINEBACKERS

*Linebacker, Ben BoulwareBen Boulware
So. Outside Linebacker
#10 5-11, 235
Anderson, SC

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. Boulware got the start in the Russell Athletic Bowl because of the suspension of starter Stephone AnthonyStephone Anthony
Sr. Linebacker
#42 6-2, 244
Polkton, NC

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and had a team-tying-high six tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, a recovered fumble and a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown against No. 24 Oklahoma. Boulware is another player ready to take that next step after serving as one of most valuable defensive backups in 2014. He had 58 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, six quarterback pressures, one pass breakup, a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown and two recovered fumbles in 326 snaps over 13 games (two starts). He has two years of eligibility remaining and they should be fun to watch because he plays with an all-out nasty attitude.

*Nickel, Korrin WigginsKorrin Wiggins
So. Defensive Back
#12 5-11, 190
Durham, NC

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OR Travis BlanksTravis Blanks
Jr. Safety
#11 6-0, 210
Tallahassee, FL

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. Blanks is the wildcard at this position after injuring his knee during bowl practice. Blanks had the surgery on Jan. 16, and hopes to return in time for beginning of fall practice. He missed all of last year after suffering a torn ACL against The Citadel in the 11th game of the 2013 season. Blanks was a second-team freshman All-American in 2012 when he had 51 tackles, an interception and seven passes broken up in 13 games, eight as a starter. In 2013 he had 35 tackles in 11 games, 10 as a starter before suffering the injury on his sixth play of the Citadel game. Wiggins has been solid at this spot the last two seasons - he had 40 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures, two interceptions for 44 yards and two pass breakups in 521 snaps over 13 games (six starts). Expect him to be the starter but Blanks will push when healthy.

*Linebacker, B.J. GoodsonB.J. Goodson
RS Jr. Linebacker
#44 6-1, 240
Lamar, SC

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. Goodson has been a role player and a reserve for much of his first two years here. He would have had to battle Kellen JonesKellen Jones
RS Jr. Linebacker
#52 6-1, 233
Houston, TX

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for this spot, but Jones elected to quit football and finish his education elsewhere. Goodson played valuable snaps last season and had 34 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, three quarterback pressures, two pass breakups, three recovered fumbles and a 24-yard fumble return in 256 snaps over 12 games (six starts). However, Dorian O’Daniel can’t be overlooked and could make a case to start this spring. O’Daniel played valuable snaps at the end of last season (he was especially good against the run at Georgia Tech) and wound up with 31 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one caused fumble in 87 snaps over 12 games (one start). He also had a team-high 13 special teams tackles.

CORNERBACKS

*Cordrea TankersleyCordrea Tankersley
So. Defensive Back
#25 6-1, 195
Beech Island, SC

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. Tankersley was in line to log significant snaps last season, but the ascendance of Garry PetersGarry Peters
RS Sr. Cornerback
#26 6-0, 194
Conyers, GA

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cut his time. He had 11 tackles in 137 snaps over 13 games but was also a special teams standout who logged seven more tackles on special teams. Tankersley is another one of those players that has been biding his time behind the veterans and could be in line for a breakout season. He has to hold off several younger players and will have Mark Fields to contend with in August but he is a solid lock to enter the spring as the starter.

*Mackensie AlexanderMackensie Alexander
RS Fr. Cornerback
#2 5-11, 190
Immokalee, FL

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. The Freshman All-American had 22 tackles, two tackles for loss, six pass breakups and one recovered fumble in 766 snaps over 13 games (13 starts), the most snaps by a freshman in school history. He also played more snaps that any other player on the defense. Fans didn’t get to hear Alexander’s name called very much last season, and with good reason and most teams stayed away from his side of the field in the latter half of the season. Alexander is another one who will probably head early to the NFL. Enjoy him while you can.

SAFETIES

*Jayron KearseJayron Kearse
So. Safety
#20 6-4, 215
Fort Myers, FL

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. Kearse came out of the spring of 2013 tied with Jadar JohnsonJadar Johnson
So. Defensive Back
#18 6-1, 207
Orangeburg, SC

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for the starting spot, but managed to take hold of that spot in the fall and never looked back. The good news for Clemson fans is that Kearse looks poised to be one of the most dynamic safeties in the country; the bad news is that if he has the kind of season we expect he could bolt for the NFL draft after his junior campaign. On a defense that lacks experience, Kearse is now one of the old guys. He has 122 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, six interceptions for 83 yards, one quarterback pressure, seven pass breakups, one caused fumble and one recovered fumble in 1,142 snaps over 25 games (15 starts) in his career. During his 2014 campaign he had 67 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, one quarterback pressure, a team-tying-high two interceptions for 21 yards, seven pass breakups and one recovered fumble in 698 snaps over 13 games (12 starts).

*Jadar Johnson/T.J. GreenT.J. Green
So. Safety
#15 6-3, 205
Sylacauga, AL

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. Johnson may not be the starter, but he is going to play a ton of snaps at the two safety spots. Johnson had 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, a team-tying-high two interceptions for a team-high 84 yards, one quarterback pressure and three pass breakups in 242 snaps over 13 games (one start) and looks to be one of those players who could have a breakout season. Don’t be surprised if he leapfrogs Green, but Green got the snaps when Robert SmithRobert Smith
Sr. Safety
#27 5-11, 211
St. George, SC

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was suspended and hurt last fall. Green moved from wide receiver to safety after the 2013 season, and had 24 tackles and an interception in 159 snaps last season. These two will battle it out into fall camp.

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Subject (Replies: 30) Author
New Story: Projected Starters: Defense
TigerNet News
Re: New Story: Projected Starters: Defense
cooper5051
Yes, he should start at SAM, when we face more conventional
AllTimeClemson
I have to say
OldGreenTom
Re: I have to say
Tigerbalm1®
Re: I have to say
Clemsonhitter®
There are actually not that many first time starters
Drobins
Re: There are actually not that many first time starters
Clemsonhitter®
to say no dropoff short sells a lot of Tigers who just left
AllTimeClemson
Re: to say no dropoff short sells a lot of Tigers who just left
Clemsonhitter®
Re: to say no dropoff short sells a lot of Tigers who just left
allorangeallthetime52®
Re: to say no dropoff short sells a lot of Tigers who just left
CLEMPZENtygurs®
Re: to say no dropoff short sells a lot of Tigers who just left
CLEMPZENtygurs®
MIddle LB is going to be the toughest to replicate.
josephg®
Bob Stoops would disagree....***
SOLOS®
Doubtful though Boulware did play a great game***
josephg®
There are 'measurables'... Tenacity isn't one.***
SOLOS®
Re: There are 'measurables'... Tenacity isn't one.***
tigerthree®
Re: New Story: Projected Starters: Defense
Creektiger1
Both Wilkins and Huggins will avoid a RS. Both will play
Drobins
Re: New Story: Projected Starters: Defense
Corderiette®
This should be a top 20-30 D next year
Drobins
Re: This should be a top 20-30 D next year
Clemsonhitter®
I'll rephrase then to "Experienced Depth"
Drobins
Re: This should be a top 20-30 D next year
TigerJ47
i see it around 35ish which is more
truetiger1998
Agree...
partsunknown
Re: New Story: Projected Starters: Defense
TigerGrad92
He'll see the field a lot this year imo
Drobins
Re: Scott Pagano
allorangeallthetime52®
Pagano may very well snag one of the starting DTs spots
Drobins

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