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CLEMSON — The Clemson defense has the task of replacing arguably the greatest defensive line in school history this season after all four starters off the 2018 squad, and reserve Albert Huggins, ended their college careers and have eyes on the NFL.

The good news for the Tigers is they apparently are not looking to rebuild in 2019. Instead they are simply reloading.

“That is a big question coming in. How is our D-line going to be after losing all of those guys? Seeing how they are performing, right now, I am not worried about it because it is very early,” offensive lineman Gage Cervenka said. “They still have a lot to learn, but they came in early and we still have a lot of ball left to practice before we come out in August.

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“I think they will do very well. They have done well so far.”

Part of the reason for the defense’s performance through the Tigers’ first 10 practices has been true freshman Tyler Davis.

Davis entered the program in January after choosing the Tigers over the likes of Florida State, Miami, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas A&M.

The four-star, 6-foot-1, 293-pound Davis has wasted little time this spring making his name known on the football field.

"He's tough, he's physical, plays fast. He's super, super smart,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Since we got back, they've (freshmen DTs) been in that dang film room -- you just see them because their film room is right next to our staff room, and they're in and out all day every day. And it shows. Those guys know what to do for the most part, and they're not perfect, but they've got a super good knowledge base. That's part of it, being able to play aggressive and learning new verbiage and language and being able to go out and execute it.

"We're installing fairly aggressively-- maybe not as much as we normally do, but we're still putting a lot on them. And they've responded. Tyler has kind of led the charge of that group. The other guys have worked every bit as hard, but Tyler is very, very intelligent. Things come easy to him. He plays with good quickness and heavy hands and can really move his feet and bend.”

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But it is not only the eyes of Venables that Davis has caught.

He has also caught the eyes of the offensive linemen who have compared him to a former Tiger that is going to be a first-round draft pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

“He is a freak. There is something about him,” Cervenka said. “You can definitely tell that he loves the game. He came in and he already knows what is going on. You can see that there is something different with him.

“We kind of like to call him ‘Baby Dex’ because he looks like a little ‘Baby Dex.’ He is a little bit smaller, but he is strong and he is fast. He is going to be a great player. I am looking forward to seeing what he has got.”

One of the leaders of the Tiger defensive line, defensive end Xavier Thomas, believes the influx of talent on the defensive front means the Tigers will be just fine this season.

As long as they put in the work.

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“Definitely some talented guys. At D-tackle we got Tyler Davis and Ruke (Orthorhoro) at DE. We got a lot of talent and explosiveness, so they are definitely going to improved,” Thomas said. “You can’t get better without watching film. It was left by Christian (Wilkins), Dexter (Lawrence), Clelin (Ferrell), Austin (Bryant), and all of those guys. They all left that tradition behind. Just getting in the film room and watching film and bettering our techniques.

“Learning from those guys and now picking up where they left off is going to be big.”

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia.

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