Swinney on best defensive line in college football: "We are just very fortunate"


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Austin Bryant (7) and Clelin Ferrell (99) are two members of Clemson's Fearsome Foursome
Austin Bryant (7) and Clelin Ferrell (99) are two members of Clemson's Fearsome Foursome

CLEMSON – Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was asked last week about his defensive and he broke out into a big smile. As it should.

The Tigers are projected to have one of the nation’s best defensive lines again this season. Stalwarts like Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant said no to the NFL for another year and elected to return to Clemson for another run at a National Championship. They join rising junior Dexter Lawrence to form the best front four in all of college football.

But, while those four receive the most attention, there are several players who just might be the best reserves in the country. Players like veterans Albert Huggins and Nyles Pinckney and freshmen like Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry can play for anyone. Huggins would start at defensive tackle for most teams.

Swinney knows what he has.

“We are just very fortunate. Some years are just different than other years,” Swinney told TigerNet last week. “Some years you have inexperience and you are just coaching on the run. You have talented guys and you have to go through a process with them.”

Swinney said the competition through the first half of spring practice has been fierce.

“We have several guys that would probably be starting some years here, but they've got these veteran guys in front of them and they are pushing them,” Swinney said. “But what I love is those younger guys are pushing those veterans, too. They just have this unbelievable amount of energy. Xavier and KJ are relentless. And it's fun because they are talented enough to push those older guys. Not that they need to be pushed because they are self-motivated guys and they bring it every day. And it's just a lot of fun.”

We’ve heard that Henry calls Wilkins “dad” as a homage to Wilkins’ leadership, and Swinney says that is all part of the dynamic that fuels the competition.

“You have Dexter, who isn't doing any of the live work. But he is coaching every play,” Swinney said. “And Christian loves that teaching. He loves to teach, as you know. He loves to take those young guys under his wing and challenging them. He stays after practice with them. We have got a good group. Jordan has had a great spring. Nyles Pinckney has really come on. He is a redshirt sophomore and I really love what I see out of him right now with his body language and his focus.

Josh Belk is going to be a great player. He has all of the tools. Sometimes you forget he is 18. He is just a young man in a grown man's body right now who is dealing with Huggins and Nyles and Dexter and Christian and guys that have been around here. He has been thrown right into that bunch. But he is going to be really good. It's a good group and they are all doing a good job.”

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