Defensive tackle trio leading the way for line


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Defensive tackle trio leading the way for line

Brent Venables and the Clemson defensive coaching staff have dealt with plenty of turnover on their roster the past few seasons. That has been especially evident on the defensive line.

So this year’s changes are nothing new.

While there are new starters at both defensive end spots, Clemson’s defensive coordinator said he is getting strong leadership from veteran defensive tackles Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins and Scott Pagano.

“Christian, Carlos and Pagano, those three in particular, I think they’re all really good leaders and extensions of us,” Venables said. “They get it. They understand it. They can start and finish the sentence before we do. They’ve got a great level of maturity.”

That’s a big change for Watkins as he enters his senior season.

“Carlos was not that guy a year ago even as a fourth-year junior,” Venables said. “He will be the first one to tell you. Something just really flipped that he made the decision, and this doesn’t happen all the time. Most of the time, I would say it’s somewhere in between. But he flipped that switch and said, ‘You know what, I’m coming back, and this is my focus, and this is my purpose.’

“He made a conscious decision to be the best version of Carlos Watkins that he can be.”

While those three anchor the middle of the line, with some help from freshman Dexter Lawrence and sophomore Albert Huggins, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell are taking over on the outside. Richard Yeargin also will be a key face at defensive end.

Venables is counting on another step in maturity for Wilkins and Bryant after they had strong freshman seasons.

“I’m really hoping that Christian’s experience and Austin’s experience is going to pay off,” Venables said. “I believe that it will. Same thing, both of them have got a lot to learn, and they’ve got a lot of work to do. (They’re) talented guys and like to work, and they’re coachable. They’re skilled with size and length and those types of things, but again, you’ve got to start over again, and we as coaches aren’t assuming anything. We’ve watched the tape, and we know what we’ve got to do and the work that needs to be put in. And our guys do; I believe that they do. I think that there’s a certain sense of focus and intensity just when I’m in town here during the summer, and I know all of us coaches are, and when we’re around our guys, we haven’t had to be chasing guys around to get them to workouts on time or do the extra things that it takes to kind of bridge the gap, so to speak.

“Those guys have experience, and I do believe that will pay off going into this year.”

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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