Versatile Wilkins prepped for return to defensive tackle

by - Senior Writer -
Wilkins works out at Wednesday's practice
Wilkins works out at Wednesday's practice

CLEMSON – Christian Wilkins can do it all.

Wilkins, a rising junior defensive lineman, moved to defensive end last season when starter Austin Bryant went down in fall camp with a broken bone in his foot. Wilkins has been a force on special teams, blocks in the jumbo package on offense and even caught a touchdown pass last season. The move to end didn’t faze Wilkins, but this spring he will move back inside to defensive tackle.

“I am looking forward to going to work and I trust the coaches, obviously,” Wilkins said Wednesday in the team room. “Coach (Dabo) Swinney and Coach (Brent) Venables know what they're doing and I'm just trying to build a relationship with Coach (Todd) Bates, too. He's new to me and we're all new to him, so we just have to establish a relationship.”

Clemson began 2017 spring practice Wednesday afternoon, and Wilkins said he uses the spring as a time to hone his game.

“I love the spring. It's really your time to get a lot better and make your jump as a player,” Wilkins said. “I feel like that is when I made my biggest jump from the end of my freshman year was in the spring. I got a lot better and got into the playbook and picked up every little nuance and just learned as much as I could. And, you're not going everyday too, so it's not as fast. You have time to think about it and walk through things and take it a little slower. So, spring is really big.”

Wilkins registered 48 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season from the end spot. During his freshman campaign in 2015 he tallied 33 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks as a defensive tackle. This spring will be spent re-learning the nuances of playing tackle.

“I didn't play much of it last season, so there are little things I have to get back used to doing. A little footwork, technique, everything happens a lot quicker on the inside, too, so you have to be ready for that,” he said. “I'm willing to do anything that helps the team, so I'm ready to go. I still try to just be in the best shape that I possibly can and still trim up a little bit to. I have to be ready for whatever. If anything happens, I have to stay versatile and move outside if necessary.”

Wilkins also said he wants to take the spring and learn the entire defense.

“You can never be too much of a technician,” Wilkins said. “I really want to get my technique down. I want to become more of a leader by knowing the defense as a whole and just my overall knowledge of the game.”

Clemson won the National Championship in 2016, but Wilkins says he hasn’t seen complacency set in, and he gives the credit to the culture Swinney has built.

“You have to just keep grinding. That's just the culture here. It doesn't matter how well we've done; you still have to grind. It's the system we have in place,” he said. “You just go to work. I haven't seen it. None of our guys are complacent. They're all just grinding, doing what we have to do. That's all we know how to do really is just work. Those are obviously tough, but guys are working and everyone showed up every day and got right into it. We had a good mat drill and we grew tighter as a team.”

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