Talent, player development allow Clemson's defense to reload


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Clemson's defense finished 7th nationally this season
Clemson's defense finished 7th nationally this season

CLEMSON – When Clemson takes the field against Alabama next Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship in Tampa, there will be a wealth of talent lining up for both defenses. Both schools have recruited well, but Clemson’s defense is built a little different.

Clemson’s defense lost seven players from the defense off of the team that lost to Alabama in last year’s title games, and many wondered just how head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables would adjust to so much youth.

The Tigers got better, finishing seventh nationally in total defense after finishing 10th a year ago, and Swinney says it has as much to do with player development as it does recruiting.

“Well, first of all, we recruited well, and not just recruited well but evaluated well, because it's not like we got -- everybody is a five-star over there,” Swinney said of Alabama. “Nobody wanted Ryan Carter except Clemson, and he's turned out to be a heck of a player for us. Jadar Johnson was just -- he wasn't some big-time recruit. Neither was Van Smith at safety. Those guys have played very well for us. Cordrea Tankersley, same thing, just kind of a blue-collar guy that's developed nicely.”

The Tigers went out and got the players they knew they could develop and added a few five stars of their own along the way,

“I think to go along with some of those guys like Dexter Lawrence who was a five-star type of recruit and a Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins, we have those guys, as well, mixed in there,” Swinney said. “But Ben Boulware was just a good player coming out of high school that had plenty of opportunities. But he wasn't at the top of the world as No. 1 linebacker guy or anything like that. Neither was Kendall Joseph.”

All of Clemson’s defensive seniors have had the same position coach since their arrival on campus, and Swinney says that consistency along with player development means a team can withstand the yearly losses and still be productive.

“So I think the main thing for us is we've evaluated well, and we've developed our players. So I think it's a credit to our strength and conditioning staff and obviously our defensive guys, Coach V and our staff," Swinney said. "We've had great continuity across the board from a staff standpoint, but especially defensively. When you can have continuity, you can kind of get to that next level from a development standpoint. Our philosophy has been in place for a while as far as who we are and what we do. So it speaks volumes to all of that, and just when you lose that amount of guys and you can -- sometimes people will look and say, well, you've got a bunch of starters back, but they might not have been very good. So that may not matter.”

Swinney then reminded the media that Alabama – just like Clemson – has to deal with NFL defections and reload every year.

“And then you can look at it and say -- what about Alabama? What do they got, three to four starters back on defense, and they lost the world, too,” he said. “But they ain't missed a beat. It's because of the same thing, they recruited well and developed those guys well, nurturing them through their program.”

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