CLEMSON — It’s one of the most rugged and thankless spots on a football team.
Defensive tackle is not a position for the weak of heart, stomach or deltoids. It’s where the dirty work gets done, down after down after down.
Grady Jarrett held that position brilliantly for the last couple of years at Clemson, yet was rarely appreciated by anyone outside the Tigers’ football facility or the team’s most attentive diehards at Death Valley. Not only was Jarrett excellent at his job, he set an exemplary standard for the younger run-stuffers behind him.
Good thing D.J. Reader gave up his moonlighting as a little-used first baseman across the street at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, because he’ll be critical to uphold Clemson’s insistence on replicating the success of last year’s No. 1 national defense.
Reader’s not a complete unknown commodity; he was reasonably productive his freshman and sophomore years each with 40-plus tackles, and he has 21 recorded quarterback pressures. He just couldn’t find much playing time behind Jarrett (now an Atlanta Falcon), DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson in 2014.
Now it’s his time. His, and Carlos Watkins’, and Scott Pagano’s and Roderick Byers’.
In particular, defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks likely will look to Reader to carry the torch. Reader’s got ideal size and girth to plug the holes like Jarrett did, and his 254 snaps logged in 2014 were more than Watkins, Pagano and Byers combined.
Reader lost his father, David Vernon Reader Sr., to rheumatoid arthritis in the summer of 2014, which inspires D.J. even more.
Clemson was one of just three teams nationally to hold opponents under three yards a rush in 2014. Not that the Tigers have to match that figure in 2015, but if the opponents’ average does balloon above four yards a clip, Reader and company won’t be beloved.
And they won’t be satisfied, either.