Clemson rounded up its football players for one big interview opportunity Tuesday. Many saw that as valuable access in advance of the Tigers’ playoff semifinal against Notre Dame on Dec. 29.
Others, namely those in attendance from Atlanta, where a certain professional football team has played its way into a prime draft position and who really needs to get serious about picking bruisers over the beautiful people, might call it something else:
For as the Clemson defensive players filed into the indoor practice facility Tuesday morning, the room seemed to tilt in one direction. Toward where the linemen congregated, a group that figures to go en masse in the next NFL draft – if the juniors among them opt to leave early.
The Falcons have dipped heavily into this pool already for defenders. Clemson’s Grady Jarrett is their stalwart on the line. His Tigers classmate taken four rounds ahead of him in the 2015 draft, Vic Beasley, has had one terrific season bracketed by some real head-scratchers.
More help is needed for a team that can swarm Arizona’s rookie quarterback like ants on a sugar cube, but has trouble pressuring just about everyone else.
And going to Clemson looking for defensive lineman is like walking into Home Depot seeking a finishing nail.
For as complete as this Clemson team is, it draws so much of its identity from its D Line. And maybe the Falcons could borrow a cup of that identity from its neighbor to the north (that assuming Alabama’s Quinnen Williams is not available. If he is, then, by all means, look southwest).
This was tackle Dexter Lawrence speaking Tuesday about his unit’s place on the No. 2-ranked team in the country: “We take it personally – we have a mindset that it starts with us, no matter what. The energy starts with us, the tempo starts with us. We take on the role of bringing the energy each day to practice. We feel that if we have a bad day it might feed over to the other players. If we come out enthusiastic, ready to play, everybody feeds off the energy.”
“We feel like we set the tempo, we feel like the team follows our lead. We try to own that,” defensive end Austin Bryant said.
Just think what kind of identity a healthy defense, along with a little more help up front, might lend the future Falcons.
Clemson’s defense ranks third in the country in sacks per game (3.5) and second in tackles for a loss (9.3 per game). But so lofty were the expectations for the Tigers D-line – Sports Illustrated dared to call it the best ever – that it’s hard to say if the unit has met them all.
Notre Dame will be able to offer a better opinion on that in 10 days.
For the holiday shopper interested in defensive linemen, a Clemson news conference is like a trip to Manhattan at Christmas.
There’s Christian Wilkins, 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, all of it explosive. A first team All-American, winner of the Campbell Trophy, also known as the “academic Heisman.” You want someone who buys into a “brotherhood?” He came back for his senior season, when he could have moved on to the NFL. “This has been the best year, the most fun year, the most enjoyable year I’ve had while at Clemson. I’m really thankful for that,” he said Tuesday. Yes, please, I’ll take one of those.
Then, there’s Clelin Ferrell, winner of the Hendricks Award for the top defensive end in college. How about 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss this season. Could the Falcons use any of that?
At 6-4, 350, Lawrence has the look of a restaurant-grade refrigerator, one that you could put in the middle of the field and it wouldn’t budge. That’s an important quality on a dominant defense, even a Dan Quinn fast-and-furious model.
Oh, and the fact that all these players know nothing but winning can’t be a bad thing.
Followers of a certain professional football team are invited to watch Clemson in these college playoffs with the keen eye of a smart shopper.