Defensive line strives to be the best

by - Senior Writer -
Jarvis Jenkins returns to anchor the interior of the Clemson defensive line in 2010

CLEMSON – Walking off the field last Wednesday, following Clemson’s controlled scrimmage, one of the officials who had called the scrimmage shook his head and whistled, and commented about the strength of Clemson’s defensive line.

“If you are a college football team, and you have three really good defensive linemen, you have a chance to be pretty good,” he said. “But those cats are unreal. They have 10 or 11 really good ones.”

There is no debating the fact that the Tigers have a wealth of talent on the defensive front, and second-year defensive line coach Dan Brooks said that is exactly the way he wants it.

“You would like for it to be that way,” Brooks said. “We have had a lot of guys play, and that is sort of my M.O., I like to play a lot of people during the game. I like for it to be that way, because you never know when you are going to get a guy injured, and someone has to step in. I like to play as many as 10 guys during a game.”

Everybody knows who defensive Da’Quan Bowers is, and Brandon Thompson and Jarvis Jenkins return as starters on the interior line from last year’s squad. Also checking in at defensive tackle are Jamie Cumbie and Miguel Chavis, and Rennie Moore has recently practiced inside and will provide depth all along the line.

Sophomore Malliciah Goodman, Kourtnei Brown, Andre Branch provide a speed-rushing edge at end, while players like Tyler Shatley and Josh Watson scramble to find playing time amongst all of the talent.

“We have five guys that played inside last year,” Brooks said. “And then you have a tremendous player like Kourtnei that redshirted last season, and guys like Shatley that are coming in and trying to play, and that’s the way I like it to be, so there is no difference when you sub guys in and out. That is a luxury, and I understand that, but that’s what we are trying to get done.

“And then we have guys at the end position, like Bowers and Goodman, and the bandit position with Branch and Brown, and you realize that we have a lot of guys that can do some things. Rennie can go inside our outside. Now, we might not have a Henderson [John Henderson, who the Outland Trophy in 2000 at Tennessee and was coached by Brooks], or that kind of deal, but we have a lot of people that can play. It is more important to me to have a whole bunch of good players than just one great one, because the other team can load up on that great one and stop you.”

Cumbie, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound senior, gave Brooks the credit for making the unit cohesive.

“First of all, we are a family, and we really strive for that,” Cumbie said. “Coach Brooks came in, and there is a different feeling in the air. We have a lot of respect for him, and believe everything he says, and because of that we show up for work every day.”

Cumbie then said that he thinks Clemson has one of the better groups of defensive linemen in the nation, much less the ACC.

“I honestly think that our D-line, overall, with the interior guys and the ends, that we are in the top three in the nation as far as depth and talent,” Cumbie said. “Everybody brings something different to the table. We have got a great first team, a great second team, and the third team guys are starting to step up. I think we have a group now that has a lot of maturity, and we want to tell the rest of the guys to put it on our back, and we will carry you.”

Andre Branch, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound junior, turned heads with several big plays at the end of last season, and has been a nemesis to the offense in both scrimmages to date, and he said he feels he can play all-out because he trusts his teammates.

“I love being a part of a defensive line like we have,” Branch said. “You can trust everybody. I know that if I mess up, then I know the other three are doing so good they are going to back me up. That builds confidence in your game. And we have depth, too.”

Branch was asked if he agreed with Cumbie’s assessment of where the line ranks with other units in the country, and he said he yes, as long as the hard work continues.

“I don’t think there is a D-line better than us right now,” Branch said. “But you can’t ever be satisfied, and you have to work hard every day in order to be the best. I would say we are definitely top three, and I would go with No. 1, but we still have a lot of work to do to get there. We are two and three deep at every position, and I think we are going to be really good this year.”

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