CLEMSON — At least Austin Bryant was honest.
“I can’t say I’ll be Shaq like he was last year,” Bryant said this spring, referring to Shaq Lawson. “Can’t say I’ll be Dodd,” he said, meaning Kevin Dodd. “I’m going to be Austin Bryant, and that’s all I can do is give everything I have. Hopefully I can help the defense.”
It’s an unfair lineage, these gaping footsteps Bryant and Clelin Ferrell and Richard Yeargin must follow. Most schools — almost every school — aren’t blessed enough to produce defensive ends picked No. 8 (Vic Beasley), No. 19 (Lawson) and No. 33 (Dodd) in a span of two NFL Drafts.
But that is why Bryant’s progress is so incredibly important to the success of the Tigers in 2016. And, quite frankly, it’s not a one-man responsibility; Bryant could get hurt or fail to produce, and Ferrell or Yeargin or even Xavier Kelly could make everything better by standing out themselves.
In fact, Ferrell could be the under-the-radar developmental player who busts onto the scene this fall. Multiple Clemson veterans on both sides of the line — most notably, left tackle Mitch Hyatt and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins — said Ferrell’s pure pass-rushing moves were the best on the roster. Watkins went so far say of Ferrell, “it felt like they had him in a cage last year” while he redshirted and nursed a wrist injury.
Otherwise, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins remains an option to line up at defensive end, adding yet another possibility at the position.
But, this compilation settles on one person per day, and therefore it is Bryant who if nothing else will have to make good on his coaches’ assessment as “a natural leader” who garnered much-needed playing time in the Orange Bowl when Lawson’s shoulder wasn’t right. Although Bryant, who will chase quarterbacks off of right tackle (Ferrell is slated off left tackle,) treats that brief yet valuable experience essentially with a shrug.
“It helped a lot last year, but this year’s a new year. Can’t really harp on it too much,” Bryant said. “Just got to keep working every day this year, because this year is all that’s going to count. Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.
“Of course you take experience away from playing on the big stage. But it’s a new year, so you’ve just got to start over.”
Honest, and accurate.