Clemson defensive end Xavier Thomas is slowly introducing himself to the college football world.
Clemson has produced its share of top defensive linemen under Dabo Swinney, and it appears that Thomas has a chance to be the best of the bunch.
Tigers players and coaches have raved about Thomas’ ability since he stepped on campus, and the more opportunities Thomas gets, the more plays he makes. Thomas played a season-high 26 snaps in Clemson’s last game against Wake Forest, and his role should continue to increase in the second half of the 2018 season.
“His role has already increased from the beginning of the season through the first six games. Y’all have seen a lot more of him,” Swinney said earlier this week. “We’ve created packages where he’s been in there. It ain’t gonna decrease, that’s for sure. He’s earned the opportunity.”
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Thomas has two future high NFL draft picks in front of him at defensive end in Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, but Clemson can keep its two starters fresh by having a guy like Thomas to give those two a break.
Ferrell and Bryant have each played at least 250 snaps this season. Ferrell has 22 tackles, eight tackles for loss and six sacks, while Bryant has 17 tackles, 5 1/2 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Thomas has only played 97 snaps and has produced 15 tackles, five tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
“Xavier Thomas is just wow. He’s played six games now, and he doesn’t look like a freshman out there. There’s no question he’s been one of the brightest spots on our team,” Swinney said. “Cle and Austin can play both sides,and so he’s kind of that third guy right now that we think can go in there and give Cle and Austin the type of break that they need to keep those guys fresh.”
Thomas added that he has felt more comfortable as the season has gone along.
He has played at least 15 snaps in each of the past four games and has recorded 12 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks during that time.
“I know what I’m capable of and I always knew. I just wanted to come in here and make a sudden impact so that’s what I’m doing week in and week out, just trying to prove myself,” Thomas said. “Just any time I’m on the field, whether it’s special teams or defense, just going out there and doing my job and just doing what I can do.”
Linebacker Tre Lamar, who leads Clemson with 43 tackles, said Thomas makes it easier on everyone else on the defense.
“That boy’s a monster. Off the edge he’s got so much speed, a lot of good bend to him. He really gets after that quarterback. It’s something this defense is definitely loving to have,” Lamar said. “He really gets after that quarterback so it’s definitely nice to be able to know that you can drop back in your pass drops and know that the quarterback is taken care of.”