Xavier Thomas: Doubt fuels the motivation for the defensive line

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Xavier Thomas is looking to take a step forward this season
Xavier Thomas is looking to take a step forward this season

CLEMSON – Go ahead and doubt Xavier Thomas and the Clemson defensive line. It fuels their motivation.

Thomas and the rest of the defensive line are faced with the task of replacing four starters and key reserves in Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Albert Huggins, Chris Register, and Austin Bryant. Losing that much talent – three of them were first-round picks – is a daunting task and many around the country think there will be a major dropoff.

Thomas doesn’t mind the talk.

“We love to hear that. That motivates us,” Thomas said this week. “We are just going to keep blocking it out and keep grinding every day.”

Thomas played extensively last season and earned near-unanimous Freshman All-American acclaim. He enters 2019 credited with 43 tackles (10.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks and two pass breakups in 304 snaps over 15 games.

Head coach Dabo Swinney has told the new group to not worry about the guys that are gone.

“Camp has been good. It's been very challenging. We have a new group of guys that have to step up to the challenge,” Thomas said. “Coach Swinney has been challenging us every day and telling us that the last group of guys, we can't worry about that. We have to be our own selves and create our own legacy. We have to be our best every day.”

Thomas is embracing new challenges.

“My biggest challenge has been stepping into that leadership role. Of course, I learned from playing behind those guys last year,” Thomas said. “It's been very challenging but it's very good for me. It's growing me mentally and physically every day.

“I have been very focused on improving my strength and improving my (defense against) run game on first and second down and of course my pass rush. But my main focus has been on my run stopping. My goals are to be the best teammate I can be for my teammates and be held accountable and just be that guy. I want guys to look at me and know they can count on me. The goal is also to win every game. That is about it.”

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables told the media last Saturday that no one has earned a starting spot at defensive end, and Thomas is one of five players rotating through the first spot along with Justin Mascoll, Logan Rudolph, KJ Henry, and Justin Foster.

“Everybody is even. We don't have any starters right now. Everybody is fighting every day,” Thomas said. “Nobody is entitled to a starting position. I am not entitled to a starting position. Everybody is grinding every day and we will see how it plays out.

“Yeah, we have been rotating all through camp. We have been mixing it up. It's so everybody can get that different look and see how they're doing with the ones and how they're doing with the twos. Everybody has been rotating and we have a solid five-guy rotation right now.”

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Tags: Xavier Thomas, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Albert Huggins, Chris Register, Austin Bryant, Justin Mascoll, Logan Rudolph, KJ Henry, Justin Foster, Brent Venables
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