Spring Report Card: Defensive Ends
The 2006 defensive line for Clemson is led by Gaines Adams. If Adams had left this unit would be a big question mark heading into the fall, with Adams returning, this unit could be one of the strongest in the ACC.
This spring Adams showed that he is focused on playing championship football at Clemson. Adams could not be blocked, and in fact, head coach Tommy Bowden mentioned sitting Adams down, so they could get some things done in the passing game. The question that Adams needs to answer is can he be consistent against the run.
Adams will work with Ron West on becoming more consistent against the run. The good news for Clemson is Adams can be one of the most dominant edge rushers in college football. Teams will have to account for Adams on every play, which could free up his teammates to make plays.
Opposite Adams is Phillip Merling. Merling showed flashes in his freshman season behind Charles Bennett. Merling will have an opportunity to make plays opposite Adams. Merling will be tested early in the season by the running games of Boston College and Florida State, because while Adams needs to improve against the run, teams will test the sophomore. Merling had a solid spring and nailed down the starting role.
The big question at defensive end is depth. Brandon Cannon is the backup to Merling, while Kwam Williams and Jermaine Martin have split time at second team bandit. Cannon was highly rated coming out of high school, but he has yet to much action. Williams and Martin were two pleasant surprises in the Orange and White game.
Williams showed signs of progress. He was able to get pressure on the quarterback, but his vertical pass rush leaves questions about his play against the run. Martin would be a good fit, if Clemson were playing a 3-4. Martin does not have the size to play with a hand down, but he has the quickness and awareness to make plays.
Cannon, Williams, and Martin will all feel the pressure, once Jamie Cumbie and Ricky Sapp arrive on campus. While Williams showed some positive signs, there was not enough shown in the spring to keep Cumbie and Sapp off of the two-deep.
Overall, Adams and Merling can be one of the pass rushing duos in the ACC. The question here is depth.