DE Charles Bennett
Bennett was ranked as one of the top 16 defensive ends in the nation by USAToday.com. He was considered an All-American by that service and one of the top 125 players in the nation regardless of position. He recorded 89 tackles, 15 quarterback pressures,14 sacks, and 22 tackles for loss as a senior.
Once viewed as an "undersized defensive lineman," or even a linebacker, Charles Bennett has emerged as a force to reckoned with on the defensive line. Since arriving from Camden High School four years ago, he's gained over 40 pounds and has shown significant improvement each and every year in the program.
"He was a guy that we tried at middle linebacker and that kind of backed him up a little bit," said former defensive line coach Ron West. "He was coming here and we were loaded with ends that year. We had J.J. Howard, Khaleed Vaughn and Maurice Fountain. We had like five ends and we tried him at second-team MIKE. That just slowed the process down. Then two years ago when J.J. Howard got hurt, they moved him back to defensive end and he just kept getting better each week, and before the year was out, he was making major plays and contributions at defensive end."
After continuing to show significant strides in the weight room, Bennett was named the Most Improved Defensive End of spring practice in 2004 by the Clemson coaching staff and rightfully so. He finished the Orange & White game second on the team in tackles with six, first in passes batted down with three, and tied for first in sacks with two.
Bennett then backed up his strong spring with a solid junior season highlighted by a game-saving interception against N.C. State. The Wolfpack drove the ball to the Clemson 12 with eight seconds to go. But on fourth-and-10, Jay Davis threw his fifth interception of the game to Bennett as time ran out. Bennett also intercepted a pass against Duke as the Blue Devils were driving deep in Clemson territory.
Entering his senior year, Bennett is a clear starter at defensive end under first year coordinator Vic Koenning. In fact, there are several question marks on the depth chart behind him considering there two inexperienced players behind him in Brandon Cannon and Kwam Williams.
"His greatest asset is his speed, his whip move," said starting right tackle Dukes, who often squares off against Bennett during practice. "But he can bullrush you, too. He's just not one technique. He's a lot of them. With him, it's like a quick move every minute. When he's dancing, you've got to keep your eyes on him and keep your balance or he's past you and headed for the quarterback."
Bonus stat: Bennett's 37.5" vertical leap ranks among the best on the team.
Bennett has the potential to be one of the top defensive ends in the ACC this year, and playing in an aggressive, unpredictable defense under first-year defensive coordinator Vic Koenning should only maximize his potential.