CLEMSON — Dan Brooks has his choices.
For a second consecutive season, he has the defensive-tackle two-deep back – plus a couple former top prospects fighting to get on the field.
Because of the competition, Clemson has upped its substitutions on the interior to keep opponents guessing – and players fresh.
In 2011, seniors Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore played more than 73 percent of the defensive snaps.
Since, no player has been on the field for even 60 percent – Grady Jarrett the only Tiger to play more than 500 snaps in a season (twice).
And there’s a reason the Conyers, Ga., native has made it the field so often.
Playing 58.5 percent of the snaps last season, he was third on the Tigers in tackles (83) and tackles for loss (11).
Junior D.J. Reader says he’s a leader off the field, as well.
“He’s just a great all-around guy,” Reader said. “You talk about ‘all in’ and Grady’s all in. I can always go and talk to him if I’m having any tough times. I always call on ‘G’ because he’s like my big brother. Every time I call him, it’s nothing but positive words, and he’s going to keep it real with anybody.”
Reader was third in snaps, but second among the interior line with tackles for loss (5) and tied with Jarrett in sacks (3).
After offseason surgery on his back, Josh Watson looks to return to his 2012 form, where he posted 54 tackles and three sacks.
DeShawn Williams rounds out the group of seniors, who has 87 tackles in more than 700 snaps the past two years.
Add to the mix former four-star prospects Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano – and junior Rod Byers (19 tackles, 1 TFL in ’13) – getting on the field will be tough for anyone.
“The competition is serious,” Reader said. “Since I came here, it’s been real serious competition. Nothing’s changed for me. Nothing’s changed for the guys coming in. It’s how it’s always been. We’re just competing and getting better.
“It’s wide-open anywhere. You never know what coach Brooks is going to think. I’m going to go out there and push myself. I’m sure Carlos, Grady, DeShawn, Josh, Rod and Scott are going to go push themselves as hard as they can.
“You just never know. We’re just going to push each other hard and not let anyone slack off so that whoever goes out there on game day is going to be ready.”
Last spring, Reader juggled baseball and football – a tough task, and too tough to continue. He has been able to give 100 percent on the gridiron without baseball tying him up this spring.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has noticed.
“I would say, since after spring break, he’s been really pretty noticeable,” Venables said. “He’s trying to slim up a little bit so he can be a little more active. Better agility. Hopefully, that continues to happen.”