CLEMSON, S.C. — Last year, Clemson had one of the best defenses in the country.
The Tigers led the ACC in scoring defense and ranked second nationally. They also led the conference in total defense and ranked eighth nationally.
No surprise, really. Clemson has consistently been one of the country’s top defensive teams over the last decade.
However, all of that was done under former defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who has now moved on to be Oklahoma’s head coach.
With Venables gone, there are some around the country who think the Tigers will slip on defense this coming season, especially with veteran players like James Skalski, Baylon Spector, Nolan Turner, Andrew Booth and Mario Goodrich off to the NFL.
But Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy says those people will be wrong.
“I know last year we had a great season defensively, but this spring something is really clicking,” he said.
What is clicking is the fact the Tigers return their entire defensive front from last year, plus they welcome back the 2020 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in Bryan Bresee. He missed the last nine games of the season after tearing his ACL at NC State in Week 4.
Besides Murphy and Bresee, Clemson returns defensive ends Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll. In the middle, defensive tackles Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro, Tre Williams, Etinosa Reuben and Payton Page are back as well.
Also, former five-star defensive tackle DeMonte Capehart is healthy for the first time in his college career.
“As far as the D-Line, we have a lot of chemistry together. We know how to play with each other. We are playing well,” Murphy said. “We know how to scheme against every offensive line we play against. We are doing a very good job.”
Though the Tigers lose the experience of Skalski and Spector at linebacker, Murphy points out they gain more speed and athleticism with guys like Jeremiah Trotter, Jr. and Barrett Carter stepping in to join junior Trenton Simpson.
“The linebackers we have now, they are very athletic. They have very good instincts,” Clemson’s defensive end said. “They know how to react to certain movements on the O-Line. They know how to react to different routes and coverage.
“I have great expectations for them. I know they are going to be good.”
On the backend, Sheridan Jones returns and will start at one corner spot. Fred Davis, Nate Wiggins and Malcom Greene all have experience at the other corner position, while safety Lannden Zanders is coming back from injury and will be joined by Andrew Mukuba, who had a great freshman year.
Jalyn Phillips, R.J. Mickens and Tyler Venables also return at safety, while the defense welcomes highly touted freshmen in safety Sherrod Covil and cornerbacks Jeadyn Lukus and Toriano Pride.
“As far as going into the summer, we just need to stay focused in skills and drills. We just need to hone in on that and hone in on the technical stuff,” Murphy said. “Stay in shape. That is the biggest thing for all of us. Stay moving and don’t take an entire week off and not doing anything. Stay active. Stay moving and stay in shape. That is the biggest thing.”