SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

CLEMSON — The Clemson defense has had numerous names over the last few years:

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"D-Line U," the "Power Rangers" or even the secondary's own calling card of the "No Fly Zone."

However, the Tigers may have added a new nickname after 15 players missed Tuesday's final scrimmage due to some sort of injury: "The Walking Wounded."

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"We were real thin. Justin Mascoll got banged up early, Justin Foster was out today. So we didn’t have a lot of depth at end. I thought those guys showed up. K.J. made a couple of plays, Xavier Thomas made some plays. ... Just not good depth," head coach Dabo Swinney said.

"We can’t afford to have a setback. You get a hamstring, you get back out there too early, you could be out for a while. Baylon (Spector) and Jake (Venables) are ready-to-play guys. They’re committed. They know their stuff.

"It’s just a shame that they missed this live work, so it’s going to be into the season kind of getting them up to speed. But I think by Monday those guys will be ready to go."

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But even with the fact that the Tigers are noticeably "thin" on the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Brent Venables believes his defense is right on track for where they should be at this point in camp.

"We're probably right where we're supposed to be, to be honest, all things considered," Venables said. "We're not a great unit by any means yet. But hopefully we will be. There's definitely enough buy-in. Immaturity is an issue, but guys are growing up fast. We're baptizing them every day. It's exciting because it's still a hungry group of guys. You've just gotta run them into stuff, you know what I mean? You gotta run them into a wall and make them like it. Whatever that looks like."

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One of the benefits of having injuries is the opportunity for other players to see increased playing time and practice reps.

If there is one position group where a group of young players are making the most of their opportunity, it is Venables' own group of linebackers — where injuries to Mike Jones Jr., Venables and Spector have opened the door for some of the true freshmen to make a name for themselves.

"They've all looked good at times. Really good at times," Venables said. "Jalyn Phillips is getting some time at nickel-Sam and safety. He's an aggressive kid that will tackle. Keith (Maguire), Kane (Patterson), and Vonta (Bentley) are all very physical. They whoop everybody in the PAW Drill, man. They'll strike, get off blocks and beat people up. Very tough, ambitious group of guys.

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"But then you've got to play football — you've got to set the front, line up in the A-B gaps, trips adjustment, handle empty, blitz the right way and all that. But I've been very pleased with that group of guys. They are made of the right stuff, that's what I've seen. They have handled the grind of camp very well."

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The Tigers will shift their focus toward getting everyone healthy as they have been since camp began.

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"The next few days are about getting our team healthier, because we’re beat up," Swinney said. We’re going to give them Saturday and Sunday off and let them rest and recover and refocus and then come back here and finish camp Monday and Tuesday."

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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. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io


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