Clemson’s Defensive Line Is Built To Dominate

Clemson's Defensive Line Built to Dominate

It is no secret that the strength of this year’s Clemson football team is its defense. That is a pretty common theme for a Dabo Swinney-led program. More specifically though, it is the defensive line which has a ton of depth, that will be the tone-setters this season.

Even after losing all four starters from a season ago, three of whom were drafted to the NFL, the Tigers may have gotten even better. A great mix of experienced playmakers, and young talent hungry to compete should have Clemson’s defensive front as one of the best in the country.

Two Bright Stars

When talking about this Tigers defensive line we have to start with the two sophomore stars TJ Parker and Peter Woods. Both of these guys are players fans were excited about joining the program heading into 2023. In that freshman season, both guys lived up to the hype.

Parker filled the stat sheet as a backup at defensive end. His 12.5 tackles for loss in 2023 broke the record for true freshmen at Clemson. It also was the second most tackles for loss on the Tigers’ defense in 2023. The only person with more was Jeremiah Trotter Jr, whom Parker also tied with for the most sacks.

Woods was also a backup last season rotating in at defensive tackle. He was a disruptor in the middle of the Tigers’ defense, consistently getting penetration up front. He had 27 total tackles, which was the second most amongst interior defensive linemen behind Tyler Davis. Woods also had 2.5 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback pressures in 2023. Both Woods and Parker earned freshmen All-American honors from multiple publications. They will now move into starter roles in 2024. Most likely as the defensive ends on either side as reports from spring practice said Woods has been taking reps at the position.

Increasing Roles

Along with Woods and Peter is a group of older guys who have been patiently waiting to get their opportunity. They have been key rotational pieces for Wes Goodwin on defense, and will now get their chance to be the focal point up front. This group of players contains names like Demonte Capehart, Payton Page, and Cade Denhoff.

Page took the most snaps last season out of this group playing in 238. The senior from Greensboro, North Carolina racked up 11 total tackles in those snaps. Capehart though, has filled up the stat sheet the most out of this group of veterans. In 2023 he had 16 total tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, and one pass deflection. Denhoff is another player who has made some plays in his limited snaps. The redshirt junior had 15 total tackles and a tackle for loss in just 170 snaps.

Young Players Ready to Compete

A huge part of what makes a program great is its ability to bring in young talent that is ready to compete at a high level. Whether that is to push the older talent on the roster to get better or to take gameday snaps in year one. Clemson continues to add highly talented young players to its roster. Up front, this is especially true. Freshmen are coming in and young players that are already on the roster are ready to step into much bigger roles.

One young defensive lineman who Tiger fans have only gotten glimpses of is AJ Hoffler. The true sophomore only played 74 snaps last season and got himself four tackles and two pass deflections. For perspective, most games end with the defense alone playing around 85 snaps. Hoffler is expected to play a much more significant role in the Tigers’ defense this season. If he consistently provides that kind of production with a higher volume of snaps played, he will be an impact player for the Tigers.

On their way to Death Valley are two highly touted commits expected to be great pickups for that defensive front. They are Darien Mayo and Hevin Brown-Shuler. Mayo is a 6’7 and 250-pound defensive end from Maryland. Mayo was rated a four-star commit in the 2024 class and the fourth-best player in the state of Maryland. His long frame and explosiveness off the edge should make him difficult to block. Brown-Shuler is a defensive tackle standing at 6’5 and 290 pounds. He was also rated as a four-star coming out of Columbia, South Carolina. Brown-Shuler is strong with his hands and quick for his size which should make him a problem to stop inside.

Spring Game Domination

We have already gotten a small preview of what this Tigers defensive line will look like this season in Clemson’s Spring Game. It was a commanding performance by the group as a whole. The White and Orange team defensive linemen combined for 14 total tackles for loss. They also combined for a total of nine sacks in the game. Defensive end Jahiem Lawson even snagged an interception for the orange team. He finished the game with a sack and two tackles for loss as well. Lawson is another player who is expected to step into a bigger role this season. If the spring game indicates what is to come, Clemson’s defensive line is built to dominate.

 

Clemson's Defensive Line Built to Dominate
Photo courtesy: Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

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