Clemson Football: What You Need to Know About the 2012 Defensive Line

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIJuly 11, 2012

Clemson Football: What You Need to Know About the 2012 Defensive Line

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    The Clemson defensive line will look very different in 2012 after the departure of its two stars, Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch.

    Massive losses on the defensive line, particularly at defensive end, is nothing new to the Tigers.

    They have had to replace two all-American ends in Da'Quan Bowers and Gaines Adams in recent years.

    Of course, head coach Dabo Swinney has a group of skilled replacements for those talented players who have left the program.

    Here is a look at how this year's Clemson defensive front will look compared to the one we saw in 2011.

The 2011 D-Line

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    The losses on the defensive line are huge for Clemson.

    19 of the Tigers' 21 sacks are gone.

    Thompson and Branch are the two glaring departures, but Rennie Moore and Kourtnei Brown will be missed as well.

    Together, the group accounted for 265 tackles, 39 for a loss, 19 sacks, three forced fumbles and the only fumble returned for a touchdown.

    Also leaving the line is junior Tyler Shatley, who will be making the transition and likely starting at right guard for the Tigers.

    The only question now is whether or not Clemson's new defensive line can match that kind of production.

The 2012 Defensive Ends

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    On the outside, Clemson has two talented and relatively proven athletes.

    Senior Malliciah Goodman will be the leader on the defensive line in 2012.

    If you've watched Clemson before, you know that the Tigers have a true playmaker in Goodman.

    He leads all returning defensive linemen in every category, has played 767 snaps, making 58 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks last year.

    Joining him on the other side will be sophomore Corey Crawford, who last year had 29 tackles including two for a loss in 252 snaps after spending one season at Hargrave Military Academy.

    Vic Beasley and redshirt freshman Roderick Byers will back them up.

    Byers hasn't seen any time in college yet, while Beasley, a smaller rush end who was rated a four-star athlete coming out of high school, has seen only 16 collegiate snaps. 

    Shaquille Lawson, a 4-star out of D. W. Daniel High School in Central, S.C., may figure into the depth at defensive end as well.

    Lawson is one of the most talented players from Clemson's 2012 recruiting class and may have the talent to see playing time right away.

The 2012 Defensive Tackles

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    The interior of the Clemson line is much more uncertain than the exterior.

    Four sophomores—DeShawn Williams, Grady Jarrett, Tavaris Barnes and Josh Watson—are still competing for the two starting spots and will likely end up being played on a rotational basis.

    Williams leads the interior, as he brings back 20 tackles including two for a loss. With his experience and talent, he should be able to hold down a starting spot.

    The remaining three have only nine tackles and 155 snaps played between them. Jarrett and Barnes should battle it out for the remaining position, but since they are all pretty equally inexperienced, Watson cannot be counted out either.

    Just as they do at defensive end, Clemson has a talented freshman coming in who should be able to add depth immediately. 

    Carlos Watkins was a high school all-American and 4-star recruit out of Forest City, N.C. and is one of the crown jewels of the 2012 Clemson class.

2012 Outlook

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    With Goodman leading the way on the exterior, the Clemson pass rush should be sufficient.

    He and Crawford have shown that they know how to pressure a quarterback.

    The big questions stand on the interior, where inexperience abounds.

    The good thing about the group of tackles is that they should all be able to share time, which should help to balance out the lack of experience.

    I would look for at least one of the Clemson freshmen to have a serious early impact in 2012.

    In all, the defensive line may see a drop-off with the departure of a talented, veteran group.

    But, as we all know, help is on the way next year.