Clemson University

Clemson tearing up the status quo

Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson falls on a fumbled snap by Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie.
Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson falls on a fumbled snap by Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie.

CLEMSON - Sophomore nose guard Brandon Thompson is suffering from position envy.

He looks around and sees defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Ricky Sapp taking snaps everywhere from inside linebacker to, well, his interior spot across from the center.

But the 6-foot-2, 305-pound Thompson has yet to convince defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to let him shun the three-point stance and get a running start from another location.

"But anything's possible," Thompson said.

Just as it's possible that two future pro prospects are blossoming with little fanfare between Clemson's touted bookend pass-rushers.

After the Tigers stuffed the between-the-tackles portion of Georgia Tech's option offense for all but a handful of plays two weeks ago, Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson justified his offense's performance to an ESPN broadcast crew by suggesting Clemson has four future NFL players on its starting defensive line.

Sapp and Bowers, you've heard about.

Thompson and junior tackle Jarvis Jenkins - perhaps not.

But first-year line coach Dan Brooks believes that will change, perhaps with Saturday's clash against No. 15 TCU.

Brooks has earned credibility on the issue, having tutored first-round NFL picks such as linemen Shaun Ellis, John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth during his 15-year tenure at Tennessee.

Brooks declines to compare Thompson and Jenkins to any of his former standouts. But he said the fact he frequently is asked to do so speaks volumes about their potential.

"We've been fortunate to have a lot of them," Brooks said. "And I think those two together can be right up there with the best."

"Together" being the operative word, as shown by coaches' penchant for substituting them as a package. Thompson and Jenkins appear to complement each other well.

Thompson, a Thomasville, Ga., native nicknamed "Yams," has the ability to play the spots along the defensive front that require a lineman with the strength to be accountable for two running gaps or to push a pass-protection double team into the backfield.

Jenkins, meanwhile, has been more of a work in progress.

The 6-4, 305-pound hometown product holds down the tackle spot where pass-rushing agility is desired.

Through three games, Clemson's defense has allowed 30 of the opposition's 51 points, and linebacker Brandon Maye and corner Crezdon Butler single out the line as the leading factor.

While the Tigers frequently use reserves Miguel Chavis, Jamie Cumbie and Rennie Moore on the interior to keep fresh players in the lineup, Thompson and Jenkins are likely to be in the lineup on passing downs.

"Probably the biggest thing they've gotten better at is playing with pad level, using their hands and understanding the concept of controlling the middle," Steele said. "If we can control the middle, then it affects the run game in a big way."

Opponents capitalized on Thompson's and Jenkins' over-aggressiveness last season, creating rushing lanes more by coaxing the duo out of position than by overpowering them.

That has changed this season.

Running backs for Middle Tennessee and Boston College have averaged 1.7 yards per carry, and both Steele and Brooks said the interior duo dominated the line of scrimmage at Georgia Tech.

Saturday's opponent, the Horned Frogs, rank 15th nationally in rushing, averaging 244.5 yards in routs of Virginia and Texas State.

Thompson hopes he and his fellow interior linemen will put up the wall necessary for observers to finally look beyond Sapp and Bowers.

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