The cupboard is not bare: Swinney loves what he sees in young but talented defense
|Wednesday, May 1, 2019, 7:57 AM- -|
CLEMSON – The cupboard is not bare.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney watched his young defense all spring, wondering which players would step to the forefront after the departure of three NFL first-round picks and one second round pick. He likes what he saw and thinks that the strength of the defense will be the group that many perceived as a weakness a year ago.
“Defensively, our strength is going to be the back end. Last year, everybody said our weakness was the back end, but this is going to be a strength of this team,” Swinney said. “We are going to be very strong in the secondary and at linebacker. Probably faster and maybe even more athletic at linebacker than we’ve been in a while. “
“Skalski becomes a full-time guy. He probably would have won a starting job last year but broke his toe. We saved him all year, and we played him in the last three games, and he was able to redshirt,” Swinney said. “That is one of the best rules that has ever come out in NCAA history. He was able to play those three games and get some experience. So he’s back, and he will be a starter for us. Shaq Smith – it is finally his time. It is kind of like Dorian O’Daniel and Vic Beasley – guys who were fourth-year juniors that it kind of took them awhile to really become the type of player that they are capable of being. I am excited about Shaq. He can fly. He’s a 250-pound guy that can absolutely run like a wideout.
“Isaiah Simmons is back. He was a first-year starter last year, and he has a chance to be an All-American. AJ Terrell is back, and in moving DK (Derion Kendrick) over to the other corner spot, I think we have a chance to be really special there.”
The defensive line saw the most attrition, but Swinney says his young Tigers are talented and the cupboard is far from bare.
“Of course, all the talk is the defensive line, and people want to talk about the guys that aren’t here, but the cupboard is not bare,” Swinney said. “It’s young, and it’s experienced, but we are talented. It starts at defensive end. Xavier Thomas played a lot, and he has a chance to be as good as anybody we’ve had come through here. KJ Henry, Justin Mascoll, Justin Foster, and Logan Rudolph – we’ve got good depth, we just don’t have many guys who’ve played a lot. The biggest thing coming out of the spring for us is Nyles Pinckney, and Jordan Williams were hurt this spring. Nyles had the big tackle on the fake field goal in the National Championship.
“The positive is that we were able to take all of these high school seniors, basically, the guys that came in mid-year, and Darnell Jefferies, the redshirt freshman, and they got all the reps at defensive tackle. It wasn’t really pretty early, but by the end of the spring, those guys were holding their own and doing a nice job. I don’t have any doubt we signed the right guys. And when we get Nyles and Jordan back, that will give us a first group that is ready to go win and that will give us the time to develop a little depth to sustain us throughout the season.”