If Clemson’s season started today, Brent Venables says he’d have no issue starting Richard Yeargin at one of the two defensive end spots.
The rising redshirt sophomore played sparingly last year, recording five tackles and one sack in nine games. But when you lose a pair of potential first-round NFL Draft picks in Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, you have to go with who you have, experienced or not.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be an albatross either,” Venables said. “I think there’s more teams out there than not working with less.”
Venables is optimistic because Yeargin’s factoring into the revamped pass rush this spring with Austin Bryant (13 tackles in 2015), Clelin Ferrell and Chris Register. For Yeargin, though, opportunity doesn’t equal playing time.
“Every day I’ve got to go out there and earn it,” Yeargin said. “I wouldn’t just say it’s my time. It’s an exciting thing. Just knowing that every day I have to grind is what I look forward to.”
Initially from South Carolina, the Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., native is hungry, yet humble. With the start of the 2016 season still nearly six months away, this spring is giving him a chance to prove Venables right.
“Richard’s a high-motor guy who’s got good quick twitch to him,” Venables said. “He’s really starting to learn the position.”
Coming out of Nova Southeastern University, Yeargin played just about everywhere on defense. He started his high school career as a safety. He moved to linebacker for a year. In his senior year, his prep team put him at defensive tackle, where he played a four-technique, Venables said.
Yeargin settled in at defensive end with the Tigers and redshirted in 2014.
“He’s kind of had to rebuild his body, build his mind and his skill set,” Venables said. “I feel good about Richard and how far he’s come.”
Part of his development has come from the players he’s replacing. Both Lawson and Dodd had a big impact on showing Yeargin how to go from the bottom to the top, and he “stayed in their back pocket” last year, when the duo combined for 24.5 sacks. Yeargin especially leaned on Dodd “from a mental standpoint and always kind of keeping me up.”
“I watched these guys before me. All they did was just work every day (and) continued to get better,” Yeargin said. “It’s a process and you have to fall in love with it. You’re not going to get instant results overnight. You’ve got to keep working.”
He has still has a long way to go. Yeargin weighs between 255-260 right now, but he wants to be 265-270 by the time the season begins. Venables said that’s big enough to be a run stopper and a pass rusher, and Yeargin tries to be proficient at both.
What he won’t try to be is a carbon copy of Lawson, Dodd or even Vic Beasley, the program’s all-time sack leader.
“I just see myself as me,” Yeargin said, shaking off any comparisons. “I can’t imitate anybody. All I can do is be Richard. I’m a young guy. I’m an unproven talent. I’m just trying to prove myself day in and day out.”