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Around The ACC: Defensive Line

The series kicks off with an area without a lot of depth in the ACC. Outside of that one team.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports


Brent Venables was supposed to go into the 2018 season with another significant rebuild on his hands. He was losing his most versatile linebacker as well as a couple of reliable members of his secondary. Worst of all, he was due to lose three of his four star defensive linemen. Then one by one, they all announced they were spurning the NFL to play another year for the Tigers.

Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell combined for over 30 tackles for loss this year but they both decided to come back to school even though they would both have likely gone in the first or second round. With both back, Venables has two players that can do everything from rush the passer to drop into man coverage. Bryant is more of the physical freak while Ferrell is the pass rushing specialist with versatility.

One of the more fun players in the country is Christian Wilkins. He became nationally known in 2015 after he caught a fake punt for a long first down in the national semifinal game. Wilkins was used in a variety of ways and his colorful personality made him one of the faces of the team. His stellar play made him an NFL draft pick as well but he decided another year in Death Valley was for him. He will team up with a fully healthy Dexter Lawrence at defensive tackle. What’s crazy is that Lawrence is the best of them all.

The overlooked factor in these guys returning is that Clemson has been recruiting at a very high level for the last few years. For proof, take a look at the clip below and look at what #3 does about 10 seconds in.

That’s true freshman Xavier Thomas. Instead of all of the guys listed above, he’s been the guy everyone is talking about during camp so far. Venables gets to reload again.


If Zach Allen isn’t the most underrated player in the country, he’s certainly in the conversation. Allen finished last season with 100 tackles from his defensive end spot but he didn’t get a lot of recognition for his play. He was overshadowed from a “name” standpoint by Harold Landry who was coming off of an All-American season.

However, it was Allen that led the team with 15.5 tackles for loss. He also led the team with 6 sacks. He’s a 285 pound defensive end and he put up numbers that would garner All-American votes if he were a linebacker. Somehow he’s still flying under the radar but I would expect that to change with a good amount of experience around him and Boston College looking to make a splash in the conference this year.


Louisville didn’t have much to hang their hat on last year on the defensive side of the ball. A coordinator change brought a very familiar base system but the philosophy was vastly different. Still, Jon Greenard was able to finish the season with 15.5 tackles for loss while splitting time with just about everyone up front.

Greenard played a bit of outside linebacker, defensive end, and even defensive tackle for the Cardinals last season. That versatility should help him play a key role in Brian VanGorder’s NFL-style defense. Greenard will likely play the role of a stand up defensive end this year and he should be able to make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage in that role.


Florida State is another team that has some uncharacteristic struggles on defense last season. The offense had some real issues putting points on the board, so the defense had a much smaller window for error. Burns was still able to finish the season with 13.5 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles.

Harlan Barnett joined Willie Taggart’s staff this summer even though the two hadn’t ever met. Barnett led strong defenses at Michigan State and he’s made it known that he is excited to have more talent at FSU. Burns should benefit greatly from the coaching change as he likely won’t have to deal with double teams or chips from running backs in a more aggressive scheme.


Ricky Walker ended up with at least half of a tackle for loss in every game he played in last year. He had a very consistent year with a couple of strong performances in big games for the Hokies. He will be relied on to have a big impact this season as the defense will bring back almost no experience or depth in the secondary. The front four will have to get after the quarterback and they will also have to stuff the run to help force long passing situations.


Joe Jackson - Miami

Malik Carney - UNC

Joshua Kaindoh - FSU

Chris Slayton - Syracuse