The Beast from the Northeast: Wilkins a revelation at defensive end


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Wilkins has proven he can play either end or tackle
Wilkins has proven he can play either end or tackle

CLEMSON – One observer called him a freak. One said his moves were ridiculous. Even head coach Dabo Swinney just shook his head and smiled when asked about Christian Wilkins earning snaps at defensive end.

The Beast from the Northeast looks like he’s ready to contribute at two spots.

Wilkins was part of the conversation following Wednesday’s scrimmage in Death Valley, with observers shaking their head as they left the stadium. The big man – all 300-plus pounds of him – has apparently shown he has the moves and athletic ability to at least take some snaps at the defensive end spot as the coaches rebuild the pass-rushing rotation.

"He can do it, and I've told y'all that. To me, that is probably the best thing coming out of spring practice, for me as a coach because I have not seen it,” Swinney said with a shake of his head. “Seeing him mentally being able to do it because Dan Brooks was a little worried coming into spring because we knew we were going to challenge him in that regard and you don't want to lessen what he is really good at.

“But you've got to find out and mentally he just has a great understanding. Some people just say, 'Oh. Just bump him out there,' but it is really not that simple. There is just a lot of scheme. There is a lot of calls. There is a lot to process, and you've got to be able to do it. We don't want just to line a guy out there. We need someone who is going to be effective. He has demonstrated that he can be very effective. That bodes well for us because I really like the guys we have at end.”

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables mentioned that Wilkins could see some time at end before the start of spring practice, but Wilkins told TigerNet Wednesday that his training didn’t begin in earnest until the team got back from spring break.

“Since we've gotten back from spring break, I've been taking more reps there. I feel comfortable out there playing in space,” Wilkins said. “I just really have to learn my alignments and my assignments and all of the details, so I know what I have to do to do my job. I'm still predominantly at d-tackle, but I'm going out there occasionally in some of the team drills during practice.”

The Tigers are loaded at defensive tackle – Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano each started games last season and Albert Huggins has shown this spring he can contribute. Add in redshirt freshmen Gage Cervenka and Sterling Johnson and talented freshman Dexter Lawrence and there is plenty of talent to go around, freeing Wilkins to cross-train.

“Definitely. We're fortunate to have that much depth on the interior to where maybe I can move out and play some end,” Wilkins said. “That's definitely great. I know it will give some other guys who maybe haven't played as much d-tackle some more experience.”

One observer of Wednesday’s scrimmage was Shaq Lawson, who knows a little bit about playing defensive end, and Wilkins said he is asking questions of both Lawson and Kevin Dodd.

“Shaq was out there today, and so I was talking to him. Dodd, I still talk to him,” he said. “They are both still around a lot and even the guys that are here, they coach me up still because I don't know everything. It's not like I'm all knowing out there. I still have to learn the technique and how to play defensive end at the college level with these last two weeks being my first time actually getting reps.”

Wilkins said his experience at defensive tackle is actually making learning to play end a little easier.

“It helps a lot. It makes it a lot easier out there because, truthfully, when I'm out there at defensive end I really just go off of what I know the d-tackles do a lot of the time and my little knowledge of what the ends do. It's really based off of the tackles,” he said.

The Tigers have talent at end with players like Clelin Ferrell, Richard Yeargin, Austin Bryant and Chris Register and will add another talented body when 2016 signee Xavier Kelly arrives in June. Until then, however, Swinney said he sleeps a little easier knowing that Wilkins can play defensive end if the need arises.

"I think the competition is going to be good. I think all those guys are going to be able to help us in some form or fashion. Then we will get Xavier (Kelly) in here and see where he is,” Swinney said. “But just having the peace of mind that I know we've got an answer and not just with a guy but a guy that can be very effective and a guy that has some experience in playing. I think that has been real positive coming out of this spring for us coaches. Just to give us another guy that brings a little bit of a veteran flavor. I mean when Austin Bryant is your veteran. I mean he is the veteran in the room. He and Richard have not played a whole lot, but that's our veterans. So just having another guy makes us feel better."

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