The Clemson Tigers got a huge gift when defensive end Vic Beasley elected to return to school, the best news the program could get outside of the recruiting realm in January. Beasley, according to the Clemson Athletic Communications release, will be back for his senior year, set to pace the improving Clemson defense.
While all eyes will be on an offense that loses its leading passer, top two rushers, top two receivers and a couple pieces on the offensive line, the defense returns strong. Reliable strength on defense is critical, as Clemson is set to experience growing pains trying to replace all of the offensive production that has walked out of the door.
That strength starts with the return of Beasley. The 6'2", 235-pound senior will enter 2014 as the nation's premier edge-rusher, looking to build on a 2013 season that saw him wow the ACC with what he could do in Year 2 under defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Beasley will be the anchor of a defense that returns a lot of talent and is hoping to move from No. 24 in both total and scoring defense into the nation's top 10.
Up front, it is not just the presence of Beasley that Clemson opponents should worry about. The entire rotation along the line returns and looks to cause problems for opposing offenses. Opposite Beasley, Corey Crawford seems poised for a breakout season after showing flashes of dominance both against the run and the pass in 2013. Mix in Grady Jarrett, one of the nation's most active defensive tackles, and the line should be primed for 2014.
At the next level, Stephone Anthony is back anchoring a linebacker corps that will experience some transition. Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian are cycling out, but the Tigers have talent returning, including the long-awaited push of Tony Steward into the starting lineup. Ben Boulware, a true freshman who saw action in 2013, will likely emerge from being Anthony's backup to taking over a starting position on either side.
Bashaud Breeland, who is leaving early for the NFL, and Orange Bowl starter Darius Robinson both depart a secondary that needs to find more talent. Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins played key snaps in 2013 and will challenge for the cornerback spots, and many are looking to highly touted Mackensie Alexander to show the skills that made him a 4-star recruit in the 2013 class.
This Clemson defense has a lot of talent and experience returning to play ball in 2014. It should be one of the nation's best units. And for a team with a number of questions on offense, having defensive answers is a must.
Those answers started with Vic Beasley returning to school.