Xavier Thomas will  be one of the stalwarts on the DL In 2020.
Xavier Thomas will be one of the stalwarts on the DL In 2020.

Clemson DL getting an influx of size and talent in 2020

by - Senior Writer -

The Power Rangers were in New Orleans, cheering on their former teammates, and when the locker room doors opened in postgame the four of them charged in to give out hugs, pats on the back, and words of encouragement.

The presence of Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence, and Clelin Ferrell didn’t go unnoticed by the Clemson media, who gathered in a gaggle outside the door. The common refrain was, “Did you see how big those guys are?”

Yes, a season in the NFL has changed them, but not drastically from what they were at Clemson. They were a different kind of defensive line – we all know that – but the difference between this season and last season was more than noticeable.

I spoke with someone before the season, someone with multiple national championship rings, and asked about a common denominator on all of those championship squads. His answer was simple – a team needs great quarterback play and a strong defensive line.

I thought Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables did a masterful job this year building a defense that played to its strength – the linebackers and secondary. This may have been his best coaching job to date, and there have been some good ones.

We all knew this was going to be a “gap” year. You can’t lose those four and Albert Huggins and Chris Register and not feel the pinch. Clemson’s starting three defensive linemen against LSU (with Venables wanting to get faster, lighter guys on the field) were Logan Rudolph (245 pounds), Tyler Davis (295), and Justin Foster (265).

The good news? Clemson survived the gap year, some of the young ones on the defensive line grew up, and help is on the way.

Ruke Orhorhoro appeared in nine games, while Etinosa Reuben was able to redshirt. Both players are still learning the game and another spring practice will only help. The coaches were also able to redshirt big defensive tackle Tayquon Johnson. The 320-pounder drew rave reviews from Gage Cervenka this season – Cervenka called Johnson a run-stuffer, a “guy you just can’t move.” Johnson squats 770 pounds. Add in Darnell Jefferies (who found out he was diabetic and is adding weight), Jordan Williams, Xavier Kelly and Nyles Pinckney and there is a nice base there for spring practice.

That doesn’t include the fact that Clemson is adding Bryan Bresee (who can also play end), Tre Williams, and Demonte Capehart to this year’s class. Bresee (290), Capehart (295) and Williams (300) all bring size and athleticism to the spot. With Davis, that’s 11 spots ready to compete at DT (unless someone leaves).

At defensive end, it was a learning and growing year for Xavier Thomas, KJ Henry, Rudolph, and Foster. The coaches were able to redshirt Greg Williams, another long and athletic player the coaches raved about during bowl practice.

On the way is Myles Murphy, the 5-star out of Georgia. Murphy is, to me, a guy that can contribute right away and he brings that length and size (he’s already 6-5 and 265) to the position that Clemson is used to seeing.

Clemson’s defensive line grew up this season, and even more help is on the way, which means the defense in 2020 might look a lot more like what we’ve seen in the past. I am not saying the 3-1-7 looks and the 3-man fronts are going away, but there should be more of the 4-man fronts next season.

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