Clemson defense Coordinator Brent Venables joined the Tigers in 2012 following a 2011 season in which Clemson ranked 71 and total and 81 in scoring defense. In his seven seasons at Clemson, he’s turned the unit into a perennial Top 10 finisher drop off.
Observers need not go further than asking former Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey about Clemson sophomore defensive end Xavier Thomas (Florence, S.C.). The freshman All-American and consensus Top 5 recruit from the Class of 2018 posted 43 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and 3.0 sacks, including a highlight-reel sack of Dungey on the final drive of Clemson’s come-from-behind victory against the Orange.
Recruiting classmate K.J. Henry (Winston-Salem, N.C.) returns after electing to redshirt a year ago, when he personally approached the coaching staff with the idea after playing four games early in the season.
The defensive end group also includes junior Justin Foster (Shelby, N.C.), a trusted option by the coaching staff who had a sack and a fumble recovery at Texas A&M last year, as well as sophomore Mason Rudolph (Rock Hill, S.C.), who made 13 tackles in reserve. The staff has also expressed enthusiasm about Justin Mascoll (Snellville, Ga.), who redshirted his first season at Clemson last year.
Clemson has ranked in the Top 10 in the country in total defense in all five seasons of the College Football Playoff era and has ranked among the Top 10 in scoring in four of those campaigns.
Yet, for all of the success Venables’ defenses had produced in his Clemson tenure, the 2018 unit accomplished a first in school history, leading the country in scoring defense for the first time in program annals by allowing only 13.1 points per game.
All four of the All-Americans that comprised Clemson’s starting defensive line a year ago (Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, and Austin Bryant) have departed for the professional ranks, providing opportunities for a number of young defensive playmakers.