DL Spring Preview: Clemson Depth Could Separate 2021 Group From All of College Football

With 10 of 11 defensive starters returning for Clemson in 2021, Brent Venables will have an enormous amount of competition on his hands as spring practice is set to begin.
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Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has a highly experienced and talented group on his hands going into 2021.

The competition on the defensive line for the Tigers will feature a multitude of four- and five-star talents, with some not yet living up to the expectations set upon them before arriving at Clemson, and others surpassing the bar earlier than expected.

Here's a breakdown of the Tigers' defensive line heading into 2021 spring practice, which begins Wednesday:

Key departures: Nyles Pinckney, Jordan Williams

Key returning players: K.J. Henry, Tyler Davis, Bryan Breese, Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas, Ruke Orhorhoro, Justin Mascoll, Regan Upshaw, Darnell Jefferies, Greg Williams, Justin Foster, Demonte Capehart, Etinosa Reuben, Tre Williams

Early enrollees: Cade Denhoff, Payton Page

Position coach: Todd Bates (5th Season)

Top dog: Murphy showed flashes of greatness in his freshman season. Going into only his second spring practice, Murphy is already one of the best run defenders on the defensive line, grading as PFF's highest run defender in the FBS in 2020. If Murphy can continue to improve on his pass-rush ability this spring he will cement himself as one of the best defensive ends in college come 2021.

Bounce back: Thomas could have fit into the bounce back category almost every preseason of his career in orange so far. Thomas has failed to deliver on the ranking he came to Clemson with and has to turn himself into the lethal pass rusher he was promised to be this spring in order to find himself a starting spot amongst a deep group of edge rushers.

Instant impact: Page enters his freshman spring with almost no guarantee to be a starter behind Breese and Davis, but gives the Tigers a young 6-foot-4, 360-pound frame to rotate in and out of the contest. If Page can step in and learn from the great coaching staff and the studs ahead of him this spring, he will find himself giving the Tigers valuable snaps in 2021.

Rising star: Breese fully delivered on the hype in his first season as a Tiger, winning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year by a landslide. Breese enters spring practice a sure-fire starter at DT, and if his development continues this offseason, his name could be on some award watchlists before the season begins.

Developing talent: Henry will be competing with Thomas for one of the starting edge rusher spots all offseason. This spring could be a big opportunity for Henry to separate himself and grab the starting spot without any doubt, but containing the run and making tackles in space are issues he must tune-up to hold Thomas at bay on the edge.

Hole to fill: Orhorhoro could be the man to shore up the rotation at defensive tackle. Page will give him some competition this spring as a freshman, but after an injury-riddled 2020 for Orhorhoro, he now has the chance to solidify himself as more than the raw prospect he entered the program as in his third spring practice.