Clemson’s defensive line being on the cover of Sports Illustrated is great publicity for the program, and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence called it something he has “always dreamed about.”
But not everyone at Clemson is thrilled about Lawrence and fellow defensive linemen Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant receiving so much preseason hype.
“If you say, ‘Would you rather them be on it or not?’ I’d say, ‘No, I’d rather them not. Let’s just go play,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
The fiery assistant isn’t mad about his four biggest stars gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, but he also made it clear that a successful season will be based on how the group performs on the field, not how many magazine covers they appear on.
“Somebody actually showed me right before I went in the meeting. I was like, ‘OK, so what?’ I’m not like, ‘Oh man, somebody get me a copy. Let’s see if they’ll sign it,’” Venables said. “They’re great guys. I don’t act like they don’t deserve being praised. They’re hardworking dudes that are humble, confident, good leaders and give us everything we ask of them. That being said I’d rather all that stuff be done, but it’s not their fault.”
Three of the four All-Americans on Clemson’s defensive line could have turned pro following the 2017 season. Instead, Wilkins, Ferrell and Bryant decided to return to school to join Lawrence, a junior, for one final season.
The group is being talked about as one of the best defensive lines in college football history, and Venables said if anyone can handle the attention and high expectations it is these four.
“We coach them every bit as hard as we coach anybody on this team and don’t look the other way for anything. We don’t cut them a break on nothing, and they like it like that,” Venables said. “Sometimes that can be misconstrued, and ‘Oh, well you guys just come back and have some fun and we’ll get you to the games on Saturday. And thanks a lot for coming back.’ That’s not (how it is). Everything is status quo.”
The Tigers’ defensive line coaches echoed Venables when discussing the work ethic of the star players.
Defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall bragged about Ferrell’s leadership qualities, while defensive tackles coach Todd Bates had similar praise for Wilkins.
“I remember his redshirt freshman year I would be in the weight room and I would see Cle always in the weight room just working on the little things,” Hall said. “And it hasn’t stopped. He’s always first in, probably the last one to leave… Just trying to get better as a player, just trying to take care of his body.”
“I just think he knows that there was some work to be done on his game and he’s come back and worked his butt off on it,” Bates added of Wilkins. “He’s become an even better player and better leader. He’s definitely done what he came back to do. Now he’s just got to finish it during the season.”