Clemson has earned the reputation as DLU over the past decade, and the Tigers will live up to that reputation once again in 2023. Clemson is the only program to post 40 or more sacks in every year of the College Football Playoff era, and the Tigers are going to be living in their opponents' backfield again this season. Off to the NFL are KJ Henry and first-round draft picks Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy, but the Tigers don't rebuild on the D-Line, they just reload. Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro and Xavier Thomas all put the NFL on hold to return this season to win a national title. It feels a lot like 2018 when Wilkins, Ferrell and Bryant all did the same, and one of the most dominant defensive lines in college football history did just that! Incidentally, Xavier Thomas was a freshman on that team, and all of those guys were working out in Clemson this summer. Thomas was just a young pup in 2018, ranked by some as the No.1 recruit in the nation, and he has come a long, long way since then, now in his sixth year. He has matured both mentally and physically. I thought last year would be his breakout season and even commented on how incredible he looked in August camp, but a foot injury just before the season opener derailed his season. He showed a glimpse of how unblockable he is in the Boston College game last season, and I can't wait to see what he can do if he can stay healthy all season!
It will be hard to double-team Thomas because of the talent across the front. Opposite XT at the other end is Justin Mascoll, who is also a super senior that was a freshman on that 2018 team. He has paid his dues and is ready to finally be the starter. Behind Tyler Davis and Ruke is freshman phenom Peter Woods, who has lived up to the hype and then some. He dominated the spring game and has had a great camp, being named a co-starter at defensive tackle. He is poised to have an instant impact as a freshman like Christian Wilkins did in 2015 and Dex Lawrence in 2016, maybe even more so. Wilkins played for a small private high school in the northeast, whereas Woods has been playing big-time football for 4 years in Alabama, winning 4 straight 6A championships. Of course, we shouldn't forget about the phenomenal freshman season Tyler Davis had in 2019 either, and Bryan Bresee was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. The Tigers have had a remarkable run with freshman defensive tackles!
The Tigers have great depth on the interior. Behind the three-headed monster of Davis, Ruke and Woods are Page and Capehart, who have a lot of experience under their belts, and there should be very little drop off when they are in the game. In addition, Tre Williams will be ready to go soon. Dabo told me that he could probably play in the opener if he had to, but they are taking their time with him because he's dealt with so many injuries. In fact, they are so deep at tackle that they will try to redshirt Williams and play him in 4 games at the end of the season. The Tigers aren't quite as deep at end this season. There is talent there, but it's young and inexperienced. Redshirt sophomore Cade Denhoff and highly heralded true freshman TJ Parker will back up XT and Mascoll on the edge.
If the Tigers stay healthy on the line, this unit could potentially be as dominant as that historic 2018 group that blew out Alabama for the national title, and it could be deja vu all over again for the Tigers!
Stay tuned, as I continue to break down each position group as we get closer to kickoff!
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