Diagnosing the Defensive Line

CLEMSON - CUTigers.com checks in with defensive line coach Chris Rumph to see where the Tigers go from here after the injury to Rashaad Jackson. Also, what's the latest with big Brandon Thompson? Will he play as a true freshman?

Entering the start of preseason camp, Clemson's front four was widely considered to be one of the top units in the ACC.

With both interior linemen returning in seniors Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson, as well junior bandit end Ricky Sapp, the Tigers had plenty of experience and ability in the fold for the 2008 season.

In addition, with the signing of the No. 2 prospect in the nation in Da'Quan Bowers this past February to go along with junior Kevin Alexander at strong side defensive end, there was a nice mix of new talent, and that's even with the loss of Phillip Merling to the NFL.

But now, that heart of that once solid depth chart has been disrupted.

With Rashaad Jackson going down with a quad injury that will likely keep him out of action until October, there is a gaping hole that must be filled as soon as possible.

The two guys who immediately step to the forefront are sophomore Jarvis Jenkins and junior Jamie Cumbie. And while the two players play the same position, the similarities pretty much end there.

Cumbie is tall - 6-feet-7 inches tall, and somewhat lean at 275 pounds. "Jamie is a big guy. He's a strong guy," defensive line coach Chris Rumph tells CUTigers.com. "He is doing a good job for us. He's got good height and he's real slippery."

Meanwhile Jenkins is shorter at 6-4, but much thicker at a shade over 300.

"Jarvis is doing great. Those two right now are battling inside. The great thing about those two is you've got two different guys. You've got one guy who is more of a run-stopper, who is powerful [Jenkins]. Then you've got another guy who is a better pass-rusher [Cumbie]. We feel comfortable with what we've got.

With two players who are so different playing the same position, it begs the question, could Jenkins be used more in running situations while Cumbie is brought in against the pass?

Given the usual rotation of defensive linemen through the course of a given game, the idea doesn't seem so far-fetched.

"Jarvis is doing great. Those two right now are battling inside. The great thing about those two is you've got two different guys. You've got one guy who is more of a run-stopper, who is powerful [Jenkins]. Then you've got another guy who is a better pass-rusher [Cumbie]." - Coach Rumph
"It's possible," admits Rumph. "We'll see what happens. We do have some guys we can mix and match and do some different packages. Sort of like what the NFL does. Jamis is going to have to be able to hunker down and play the run. And Jarvis, if he's in there, is going to have to be able to pass-rush for us."

Still, the loss of Jackson will put additional pressure not only on Cumbie and Jenkins, but the other defensive linemen as well.

"It's going to definitely hurt losing a guy like him," he said. "Losing his attitude, his energy, his leadership and all that of stuff is important. We are going to miss all of that but those other guys are going to have to step up.

"You know we are blessed. We've got some decent talent around here. Dorell Scott and the Sapps and the Bowers and Kevin Alexanders, those guys are going to have to step up and fill the gap for us."

In addition, another player could also enter the mix on Clemson's defensive line this fall is freshman nose guard Brandon Thompson.

The former four-star prospect was ranked as the No. 6 defensive tackle in the nation last year according to Scout.com.

Thompson told CUTigers.com this weekend he feels there's a good chance he could see the field this season.

"The adjustment hasn't been too big so far from high school," he said. "I feel like I've done a pretty good job and I made some plays in the scrimmage today that disrupted some things so hopefully I will get to play."

It didn't take long for Coach Rumph to give his two cents on Thompson when asked the question about the talented freshman.

"Brandon is just dog-gone powerful," Rumph said. "He's powerful. He's just a big muscle. He's powerful. I'm going to enjoy coaching him the next few years. There's a chance [of Thompson playing this season]. He's working hard and really trying to get his weight down."

Thompson is currently bracketed with Antwon Murchison on the third team at nose guard behind starter Dorell Scott and backup Miguel Chavis.

At tackle, Cumbie steps into the starting spot with Jackson going down with Jenkins not too far behind, and now Rennie Moore is on the third team.

Rounding out Clemson's defensive line rotation, Kevin Alexander and Da'Quan Bowers headline the top two at strong side end, with Andre Branch on the third team, while Ricky Sapp leads the bandit ends by a wide margin over sophomore Kourtnei Brown.

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