Fall Camp Preview: Clemson defense is once again loaded

by - Senior Writer -
Tyler Davis made an instant impact as a freshman and will look to lead again in 2020.
Tyler Davis made an instant impact as a freshman and will look to lead again in 2020.

We don’t know when Clemson’s fall camp will start, but we do know it will likely be in the next few weeks and that it’s never too early for a season preview.

Camp is scheduled to start next week (Wednesday), and as of now is still scheduled for that day. The ACC released a tentative season schedule Wednesday so we should have an idea of when camp will start at some point before the weekend is out.

What we do know is this – if the season is played Clemson will once again be the favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and contend for a national title. The Tigers just need the opportunity to play.

Yesterday we took a quick look a quick look at the offense heading into camp.

Today we will take a quick look at the defense before drilling down into each position group over the next few weeks.

Brent Venables is the best defensive coordinator in college football, and it isn’t even close. Last year’s defense was sixth in the nation in total defense, was third in the country in scoring defense, and allowed fewer than 17 points to everyone but North Carolina (20), Ohio State (23) and LSU (42).

The defense did that with young players struggling to find their way on the defensive line. Gone is leading tackler Isaiah Simmons – the best linebacker in the nation last year – to the Arizona Cardinals. Four of the top five tacklers are also gone, along with corner AJ Terrell and safety K’Von Wallace.

However, there are stars that are simply waiting for their time to shine. Defensive end Xavier Thomas is poised to have a breakout season, and Nyles Pinckney and Tyler Davis is one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the country. That doesn’t even take into account players like KJ Henry and Jordan Williams and Justin Mascoll and other veterans that are simply waiting to explode. Add in freshmen like Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee and Demonte Capehart and there is talent all over the place.

Linebacker James Skalski is one of the more underrated players in the country. He finished second on the team with 90 tackles a year ago and is the unquestioned leader of the defense. Junior Baylon Spector was impressive in the postseason and will be on the outside while Skalski roams the middle, and Mike Jones, Jr., will replace Simmons at the SAM/Nickel spot.

The linebacking group has several veterans poised for big-time snaps – Jake Venables and Vonta Bentley and Keith Maguire and Kane Patterson – and enough 4-star and 5-star freshmen to make it the envy of any program in the country.

Three starters are gone from the secondary, but Nolan Turner has played starter’s snaps at safety and came up with the big interception to end Ohio State’s dreams in the Fiesta Bowl last season. Lannden Zanders, Ray Thornton, Joseph Charleston, and Jalyn Phillips will all vie for playing time, while youngsters like RJ Mickens and Malcolm Greene and Tyler Venables look for their shot.

At corner, Derion Kendrick is the lone returning starter. Mario Goodrich and Andrew Booth were injured during the spring and that opened the door for players like Fred Davis, LeAnthony Williams, and Sheridan Jones.

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