Clemson Has ACC's Best Defensive Line

By Travis Patterson

The past few seasons Florida State has assembled the best defensive line in the ACC.  Well, this year it is Clemson that has taken that honor away from the Seminoles with the emergence of players all across the board.  Clemson’s defense has been a weakness the last couple of years, but this year the Tiger defense is playing as well as it did in 2010 when DaQuan Bowers was causing havoc for opposing ACC quarterbacks.  Some people still like to think of Clemson as only an offensive football team, but if anyone watched the game this past Saturday at Syracuse, then they know that this Tiger defense is for real.

Clemson has the nation’s leading sack man in Vic Beasley with eight, who keeps adding to his total every week.  Everyone came into this season talking about the other defensive end in the state of South Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney, but it is Beasley who has outperformed him and everyone else in the country.  His strength and speed put the offensive tackle at an immediate disadvantage before the ball is even snapped.  It is a luxury for Clemson to have Beasley coming off the edge because they are not forced to blitz a lot in order to generate pressure on the quarterback, which allows linebackers to drop back into coverage and cover more field.  Beasley had another fine game against the Cuse, racking up two more sacks to bring his total up to eight.

Beasley has been getting a lot of help, though, especially from defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.  Jarrett is third on the team in total tackles with 32 and is first on the team in quarterback pressures with eight.  Jarrett clogs up the middle and gets the opposing center on their heels almost instantly.  He is excellent in the run game as he has 4.5 tackles for loss and has the athleticism to flush the quarterback out of the pocket on passing downs.  Jarrett has the total package and is a perfect complement to Beasley.  Other defensive end Corey Crawford is no slouch himself, as he is second on the team with six quarterback pressures while also racking up four tackles for loss.  Crawford has the physical gifts and has improved his motor and technique making him a valuable part of this defensive line.

This defensive line is extremely deep, and freshman defensive end Shaq Lawson is proving that with his stellar play early on this season.  Lawson reminds me a lot of former Clemson defensive end Charles Bennett, who in his senior year at Clemson finished with 12.5 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback pressures.  They have the same type of body and a similar skill set, except Lawson seems to be developing faster than Bennett did, which is good for Clemson fans.  Lawson is second on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss this season.

This year for Clemson, other defensive tackles have been productive such as Josh Watson and D.J. Reader, who have 17 tackles each.  Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has used a nice rotation of linemen, making this defense more explosive.  Another thing that needs to be considered is that linemen do things that do not show up in the stat sheet.  These linemen mess up the quarterback’s timing, draw holding penalties, and demand double teams.  In Venables’ first season at Clemson last year, his scheme was fine, but he did not have the personnel to run it efficiently.  The offseason development of these defensive linemen has been the biggest surprise in the ACC this season.  Florida State lost multiple players to the NFL Draft in April, and now Clemson has the best defensive line in the ACC.  The Clemson defense as a whole only seems to be getting better with each passing week.  This weekend the Tigers will host Boston College before Florida State comes to town the following week to play under the lights in primetime.

Travis Patterson, Writer For ACC  Follow on Twitter @tpat20.

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