CLEMSON FOOTBALL

Clemson camp wrap: Where the defense stands with kickoff approaching
Malcolm Greene, Trenton Simpson and Cade Denhoff (l-r) have all come up as players ready to contribute in 2022.

Clemson camp wrap: Where the defense stands with kickoff approaching


by - Senior Writer -

Fall camp is complete and Clemson will now turn its attention to the season opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. With the end of camp and practice session observations and interviews, there is plenty to talk about when it comes to what we’ve learned and what we think on the cusp of another season.

Today, we look at the defense, and we’ll break it out into three groups – defensive line, linebackers, and secondary.

Secondary

At first glance, there are those who might have big concerns about the secondary. Gone are two All-ACC corners in Mario Goodrich and Andrew Booth. Gone is a 2020 All-American and steady veteran in Nolan Turner. Safety Lannden Zanders retired from football due to health issues.

However, veteran Sheridan Jones returns to man one cornerback spot. He’s started 11 games (out of 38) and has logged a whopping 855 snaps over his career. Nate Wiggins is talented – head coach Dabo Swinney calls him Nate the Great – and one ACC analyst told me earlier this week that Wiggins is AJ Terrell reincarnated. Fred Davis has put his struggles in the past and will see plenty of action, along with Malcolm Greene, who is finally healthy and ready to stand out. Add in exciting youngsters like Toriano Pride, Jr., and Jeadyn Lukus, and corners coach Mike Reed has depth to be excited about.

At safety, Andrew Mukuba is set to build off his stellar freshman campaign, while Jalyn Phillips is ready to take the next step. Phillips has already taken on the mantle of leadership, and we’ve heard nothing but good things about his progress since the spring. Tyler Venables and RJ Mickens are veterans who will also see plenty of playing time. Freshmen Sherrod Covil and Kylon Griffin will have to battle for playing time, but both have made strides in camp.

Both units – safety and corner – have a nice blend of veterans and youth.

Linebacker

Movement and versatility have been the operative words when it comes to Wes Goodwin’s linebacker corps.

Former five-star prospect Barrett Carter is slated to move into Trenton Simpson’s former starting spot, as well as some work at safety, while Simpson heads to Baylon Spector’s former position at weakside linebacker. Goodwin says Carter has “elite talent” that will show this season. On the strongside along with Carter is camp standout and freshman Wade Woodaz, who Goodwin believes will play early.

In the middle linebacker spot, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Keith Maguire are vying for playing time and LaVonta Bentley is working with Simpson at WLB. Goodwin said earlier this week that all four are capable of being starters going into game week.

Goodwin says Simpson committed to learning the WLB spot over the summer and is playing fast. Goodwin compared him to former Clemson top-10 NFL draft pick Isaiah Simmons, as well as former 5-star prospect Stephone Anthony.

The versatility of Carter and Simpson in particular are going to be keys to Goodwin’s defensive gameplans this season, he said, and it’s going to be fun to watch their playmaking this season. – Brandon Rink

Defensive line

Clemson’s defensive line promises to be its best since the 2018 team featured Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, and Dexter Lawrence. All four of those players are in the NFL, which gives you an idea of just how good that group happened to be. Next year? It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see defensive ends Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas, and KJ Henry and defensive tackles Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis, and Ruke Orhorhoro on NFL rosters.

Let’s start with that tackles group. Bresee is returning from a torn ACL suffered at NC State last year, and he’s itching to get back to form. He’s still wearing a brace on his knee, but that hasn’t stopped him in camp. He’s once again looked the part. Davis battled injuries last season and came in healthy, and when he’s “right,” there is no better technician in the game. As one coach told David in camp, Davis is “perfection” when it comes to playing with technique. That brings us to Orhorhoro – coaches have raved about him, his teammates have raved about him, and when NFL scouts show up at a Clemson practice, they scribble furiously whenever they watch him. He’s been a terror for offensive linemen in camp, building off a 2021 season in which he filled in for injured players and played outstanding.

Yes, those three are really good. But so are DeMonte Capehart, who has made huge strides in camp, Payton Page, Tré Williams, and Etinosa Reuben. Freshman Caden Story can take his time and learn the position, because there are a lot of “war daddies” in front of him.

Speaking of war daddies, a favorite term of former defensive coordinator Brent Venables, the Tigers have that and more in Henry, Justin Mascoll, Thomas, and Murphy. Murphy didn’t have the season he wanted in 2021, but he was still credited with 43 tackles, a team-high 14.0 tackles for loss, team-best 7.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups in 549 snaps over 13 games (10 starts). Henry and Mascoll are steady veterans, and Thomas has the talent to take his game to an elite level when healthy. He is recovering from a foot injury and is pointing towards a late September return. But in camp, we heard good things from Goodwin about backups Cade Denhoff, Kevin Swint, and Greg Williams. - Nikki Hood

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