5 Intriguing Questions for Clemson's DL

Despite losing Phillip Merling, a second round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins, Clemson's defensive line may be the best in the ACC.

#5. How good can Da'Quan Bowers be in his first year at Clemson?
One would think the No. 2 prospect in the nation in the class of 2008 would still have a period of adjustment the first time he stepped on the field as a college player, especially when he decided to enroll a semester early and especially playing as a defensive end. Not true with Da'Quan Bowers. Bowers quickly moved from fourth team to nearly a starting position in the span of just 15 spring practices and all indications are he could grab that spot before the Aug. 30th season opener against Alabama. Put it this way, Bowers was physically ready to play at Clemson more than two years ago and has the kind of freakish athleticism that makes defensive coordinators drool. How good he can be as a true freshman, in terms of actual production, remains to be seen, but don't be surprised if he has his hand in good number of big plays this season and is in the mix for rookie of the year honors in the ACC. Yes, he's that good.

#4. Can this unit collectively get more pressure on the quarterback this season?
It's hard to believe Clemson finished in the top 10 in the nation last year in total defense, but was 10th in the ACC in number of sacks with just 27 in 13 games. By comparison, league leaders Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech each registered 47. Another year under the belt of Ricky Sapp should help here and if Bowers or Kevin Alexander can get in the mix, lookout. Clemson's secondary should be strong enough (No. 1 in the ACC last year) to force more coverage sacks but the onus is on the guys up front to create more big plays for lost yardage. Keep in mind the interior guys, Rashaad Jackson and Dorell Scott, had four sacks combined last season - but don't be surprised if that number increases exponentially this year as you're talking about two of the more talented and experienced d-linemen in the ACC. Generally speaking you don't expect that kind of production from guards and tackles, but these guys have the ability to become bigger playmakers during their redshirt senior years.

#3. Is Ricky Sapp ready to be the next Gaines Adams?
Speaking of Sapp, isn't it about time he becomes the playmaking force he was expected to be coming out as a five-star end out of Bamberg-Ehrhardt? In a word- yes. Most people don't realize it but Sapp's production a year ago was more than solid- 52 total tackles including 10 for loss and five sacks, but he needs to be even better this season, especially when it comes to getting to the quarterback in order for Clemson's defense to take the next step. He arrived on campus as a true freshman around 220 pounds, but he is now up around 245 and is much more physically ready to become one of the top ends in the league. And who knows, a big year could send him into the NFL draft.

#2. Are Rashaad Jackson and Dorrell Scott two of the most underrated players in the league?
If underrated means both underrated and underappreciated, then absolutely they are. These two run-stoppers were considered good players coming out of high school, but their development in the last two seasons has been nothing short of phenomenal. Jackson has a motor that never stops and is one of the top returning tackles in the conference and Scott could position himself as a decent round draft pick with a good senior year. Clemson's defense as a whole must get a little better against the run after giving up 118 yards/game last year (7th in the ACC), and these two have the ability to make it happen.

#1. Outside of the starting four, who else will see significant snaps this season and is there a significant drop off in talent?
Whoever ends up on the second team at strong side defensive end after preseason camp, either Kevin Alexander or Da'Quan Bowers, will still receive ample playing time throughout the season. Both players are talented and Alexander has enough experience to warrant significant snaps even if the talented freshman beats him out. On the inside, former end Jamie Cumbie will back up Jackson at tackle and sophomore Miguel Chavis is currently slotted to play behind Dorell Scott. Cumbie, in particular, is an intriguing interior prospect because he's so tall and fairly quick. Also, keep an eye on the massive Jarvis Jenkins, who is the prototypical run-stuffer that will likely triple his number of snaps from a year ago. At bandit end, sophomore Kourtnei Brown is a Sapp-clone minus about 15 pounds. He's quick but lacks quality experience. In short, strong side end looks solid both on the first and second teams, the reserve interior linemen are good, but you'd like to see more experience out of Jenkins and Chavis, and depth at bandit end is unproven.

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