The front seven for Clemson was arguably the most talented group in the country last season. Unfortunately, almost all of those guys are gone from the program this year. Gone is Grady Jarrett's unbelievable burst in the middle of the line. Gone is Vic Beasley and his uncanny ability to get around the edge and get to the quarterback. Also, gone is Tony Steward and his playmaking ability behind the line of scrimmage. But maybe most importantly is the loss of Stephone Anthony. Anthony did a little of everything for the defense but as the middle linebacker he made sure everyone was lined up correctly and with four years of experience you know the defense could depend on him to make adjustments.
The defensive line for Clemson was a big question mark coming into the season but Shaq Lawson was a guy that fans were really excited about. He hasn't disappointed so far with 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack so far. Lawson is being used a little differently than Beasley, it seems. I've seen Lawson drop into man coverage as well as a straight drop back zone. Beasley was more of a pass rusher from what I saw last year, but I could've obviously missed some snaps. Lawson has been the playmaker but the steady rotation of defensive tackles has shown that Clemson has plenty of guys that can team up to replace Jarrett and others in the interior of the line. The Tigers appear to have a rotation of four guys that switch out from time to time. All four have played very well against overmatched offensive lines. The spot where Louisville might have some success is off of the right edge. Kevin Dodd and Austin Bryant haven't gotten the penetration that others have and Micky Crum and Aaron Epps have had some success blocking on that side.
The group of linebackers have seen a facelift this year as well, with all three spots being manned by players that weren't full time starters last year. The one player that is back had a career day against Louisville last year. Ben Boulware stared in place of Steward against the Cards and he finished the game with 9 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and a sack. Boulware made a living shooting gaps in the offensive line to make plays or disrupt plays. It's an issue that the offense has battled for some time now. Some of Louisville's running plays take a long time to develop and it leaves the play susceptible to a backside linebacker shooting through and disrupting the play. Virginia, Clemson, and NC State were games last year where this killed the offense. Boulware lines up with senior B.J. Goodson and former safety Travis Blanks. Blanks leaves the field when the team goes nickel but he seems to have taken his transition to the second level pretty well. This group is a great mix of great size with Goodson and great speed with Boulware and Blanks flanking him. Houston's speed was an issue last week. We will have to see what kind of adjustments have been made to counteract it.
The secondary is the only position group that returned multiple players. Mackenzie Alexander is one of the top 5-10 corners in the country and Jayron "I walked down James Quick" Kearse is a jumbo safety that (obviously) runs really well. Alexander is a guy that is good enough that Petrino and McGee might try to avoid him all together. He can jump routes, he can run with anyone, and he has exceptional ball skills. With Louisville's young group of receivers he could make some plays that could change the game. Kearse plays a role similar to JHC. He lines up as a deep safety in the base defense but moves into the nickel when they switch. Kearse isn't as physical as Clemons but he can make plays in the open field just the same. Cordrea Tankersley and T.J. Green have taken over at the other two spots in the secondary. Green has plenty of size and he plays downhill like James Sample. He's also a burner and returns kicks for the team. Tankersley is still a question mark for me. He hasn't been tested much but he hasn't looked extremely comfortable when he was.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Shaq Lawson, WLB Ben Boulware, CB Mackenzie Alexander, FS Jayron Kearse