Clemson’s defense last season was a work in progress but still had a much better season than the previous year. The Tigers ranked 24th in points allowed at 22.2 points per game and led the nation in tackles for loss with 123. Many of the defense's stars return, with the exceptions of Spencer Shuey, Quandon Christian and Bashaud Breeland.
The defensive line could be among the best in school history with Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett leading the way. D.J. Reader, Corey Crawford, Deshawn Williams, Tavaris Barnes and Josh Watson have also been solid in their time with the Tigers. Young players that could make an impact are Shaq Lawson, Ebenezer Ogundeko and Scott Pagano. Martin Aiken and Carlos Watkins are definitely guys who could compete for time on the field as well.
Bottom Line: The defensive line is the strongest part of Clemson’s team next year, including offensive groups. The 123 tackles for loss last season was a school record, and the Tigers should be just as good or even better this season. Beasley is a scary sight coming off the edge, and the focus on him from offensive coaches should allow others on the defensive line to make big plays.
Stephone Anthony impressed last season and will be one of the stars on Clemson’s defense. Young players like Ben Boulware and Dorian O’Daniel have done well in spring camp and will likely see time on the field this season.
Boulware has been working at the "Will" position, getting some experience there. Boulware will likely be the middle linebacker when Anthony graduates, but playing him some on the weak side might get him more playing time this season.
Tony Steward, like Anthony, was a big-time recruit and has done good things in his time at Clemson. But he hasn’t quite fulfilled expectations yet due to injuries. The Tigers need him to step up this season and be a senior leader. B.J. Goodson, Kellen Jones and T.J. Burrell are other names to watch at linebacker.
Bottom Line: Anthony and Steward will be the senior leaders for the linebackers, and Korrin Wiggins has a shot at playing the "Sam" position (among other spots). Linebackers should be a solid part of this defensive group.
The secondary is the question mark of the defense. This unit has the potential to do big things, but there’s just nothing to base assumptions off of right now besides spring practice. Travis Blanks didn’t look as good in his sophomore season but will try to rebound and have a solid year.
Jayron Kearse and Robert Smith played well for the Tigers down the stretch and should be solid contributors this season. Youngsters such as Mackensie Alexander, Adrian Baker, Jadar Johnson and Cordrea Tankersley will all be names to watch. Alexander is one of the more exciting young players I can remember the Tigers having on that side of the ball in a while.
T.J. Green made the move from wide receiver to safety, and that should really help Brent Venables’ defense because of Green’s size. He will likely compete for solid playing time and perhaps a starting position.
Though they lost Darius Robinson and Breeland, the Tigers still have Martin Jenkins and Garry Peters at cornerback. Wiggins got playing time last year at defensive back and will likely play some in that rotation this season also.
What expectations do you have for Clemson's defense next season?
Bottom Line: The Tigers’ question mark will for sure be in the secondary. Getting Blanks back to playing like he can will be big for head coach Dabo Swinney’s squad. Guys like Alexander and Baker will have to step up, and Jenkins will need to stay healthy. Wiggins, Green and Kearse should play well this season but are still young and may have learning moments at times. Peters and Smith, along with Jenkins, will need to be the vocal leaders in this group.