The impact of COVID-19 on college football has been felt in myriad ways.
Among those many effects include the testing of depth charts. Not only do programs have to navigate the waters of typical injuries this season, but 2020 now brings a virus into play.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced Thursday night, following the opening session of camp in his Zoom call, that the program plans to redshirt veteran defensive end Xavier Thomas for the 2020 season. But with that disappointing news, the door is ajar for one newcomer and the top-rated 2020 player, Bryan Bresee.
Thomas has battled COVID-19 and strep throat over the past few months and lost significant training and basic conditioning time through the pandemic and is "nowhere near where he needs to be to play football," Swinney said Thursday.
Clemson, which has had its publicly acknowledged several cases of the virus within the athletic department this summer, will now be without a key part of the defensive line. However, with the Tigers, it's always the "next man up" mentality, and they've been here before.
In the 2018 title run, the Tigers were forced to be without Dexter Lawrence in the College Football Playoff after he and offensive lineman Zach Giella and tight end Braden Galloway tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug ostarine.
But the Tigers didn't miss a beat as guys like Nyles Pickney, Jordan Williams and Albert Huggins stepped up on the defensive line. Clemson allowed a combined 19 points to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and Alabama in the national championship game. Clemson and company hope for similar success in 2020 with Thomas essentially on the shelf for the season.
While the loss and his experience will hurt, Clemson once again has options and Swinney believes this whole ordeal could end up being a blessing.
"I feel good about (depth)," Swinney said. "Even if we didn't have that, this is what's best for X. I think this is going to be a blessing for him in the long run and allow him to really just reset and get himself back to where he needs to be."
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Thomas' limited availability this fall will open the door of Bresee, who was an early enrollee. Although the team had just a handful of practices during an abbreviated spring, already having him on campus could be a big key in his preparation for a larger role now in 2020.
Not only will Bresee be playing and learning with a talented and experienced group, including the likes of Tyler Davis, K.J. Henry, and Justin Foster, he'll get the proven developmental skills from defensive coordinator Brent Venables and defensive line coach Todd Bates, who have worked together in Clemson since 2017. The duo helped produce the championship-winning unit of Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Dexter Lawrence known as the Power Rangers.
Last year, it was Davis, the true freshman, who stepped up and made a name for himself, earning the first-team job while tallying 51 tackles, 5.5 sacks two pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
Bresee could be that guy for the Tigers in 2020. A five-star product out of Damascus, Md., he is a monster of a player at 6-foot-5, 300 pounds and has all the ingredients of a guy who will be eventually be playing on Sundays.
Last month, the true freshman was named Fox's Top Impact Freshman of the Year.
"I think he checks off a lot of those boxes," Fox Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt said. "He’s certainly physically ready. He’s quick enough to maybe trim down, stay where he’s at and play on the edge. Or he can bulk up and be a 315-pound interior defensive lineman. And he’s got the quickness and hand quickness and toughness and strength to rush the quarterback from the interior. It’s that versatility that helps him."
Bresee is already on his way to becoming even a tougher specimen for offenses to deal with, adding on 10 pounds to his frame since arriving on campus in January.
Swinney was asked about that versatility back in the spring and while he was quick to point out Bresee is young and has some learning to do, he didn't shy away from his potential. Clemson was already likely to incorporate a strong rotation up front, but look for the freshman to push sophomore Ruke Orhorhoro for significant snaps.
"In due time, at some point, (Bresee) is a guy I'll throw a pass to, hand it to, play special teams, play three-technique, play nose, could probably get by playing some end if we had to," Swinney said. "So I think as he goes through his career and regrows, there's a lot you can do with him."