Clarke Anchoring DL

The redshirt freshman nose tackle has not missed a snap dating back to spring ball.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While Jeremiah Clarke may have risen to the top of the depth chart at nose tackle in spring ball due to injuries and attrition, he’s stayed there due to size, ability and athleticism.

Clarke arrived at North Carolina in summer 2014 believing he could push for playing time, and that opportunity appeared to blow open with the academic attrition that hit the interior line prior to the start of training camp.

Not long thereafter, however, it became evident that the Alexandria, Va. product wasn’t ready to play. In his words, he needed to get bigger, stronger and faster to compete at the college level, and while he knew the play book, he didn’t necessarily understand the concepts.

Clarke credits former UNC defensive line coach Keith Gilmore with preparing him last fall to be ready to compete for a starting job as a redshirt freshman, and as the bodies gradually vanished during spring practice, that chance emerged sooner than expected.

“In the spring, due to injuries and people not being here, you’ve got to step up and take the reps that you’re given,” Clarke said after Wednesday’s practice. “If it’s 60-70 reps, your body hurts at the end of the day, but those are valuable reps, and when you get to game time, you might regret not taking those reps.”

While various linemen, on both sides of the ball, have missed practices to nurse injuries this offseason, Clarke never did.

“One of the things about Jeremiah is he has never missed a snap up to this point, all through two-a-days,” defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said last Thursday. “He’s always available. And this has been a grind. These guys have played a lot of snaps. I’m very proud of him because of his availability. When we look up, he’s not hurt. He’s tired, he’s banged up, but he’s never too hurt to go in there and play. He’s gotten better as well.”

Clarke, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 315 pounds, moved up to the first team in March and has yet to move out.

“The position’s still not set in stone,” Clarke said. “I’m fighting every day. I’ve got people behind me like Tyler Powell, Robert Dinkins, Nazair [Jones], everyone’s fighting to be No. 1 on game day. You never quit. You’re always pushing yourself to be better.”

Those are mature comments from a football player yet to play a snap at the college level. Jones, a redshirt sophomore playing the defensive tackle position, has no qualms labeling Clarke as the starter at nose tackle.

“He deserves it because I wasn’t here in the spring and he took a million reps and never missed a rep,” Jones said. “He never complained, he never acted like his body was hurting. He toughed everything out. He definitely earned that No. 1 spot.”

Jones described Clarke as a huge body that knows how to use his length, adding that his quick burst of speed allows him to make plays laterally between the tackles on a consistent basis.

Clarke elected to use the word “powerful” in breaking down his skillset.

“Once I get my hands on people, it can be a deadly thing,” Clarke said. “And I might have a little quick burst here and there, but I guess people will have to see it for themselves and judge it how they may.”

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