The first time Dabo Swinney met Clemson freshman defensive tackle Tyler Davis he coined the nickname “Baby Dex,” explaining to Davis that he looks like former Tigers All-American Dexter Lawrence, and adding that the two have a lot of the same mannerisms.
Looking like Lawrence is one thing, but the likelihood of Davis making a similar early impact as the former five-star recruit seemed unlikely, if not impossible.
Only Davis didn’t get that message.
The Florida native was praised throughout spring practice and fall camp for his work ethic, film study and physical ability, and when the Clemson defense ran onto the field for the first time in 2019, Davis joined them, becoming the first true freshman to start for the Tigers since Mitch Hyatt in 2015.
Clemson just had two defensive tackles drafted in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft in Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. Neither of them started the opener of their freshman season.
“As we all know, that’s a rare deal. I think Justyn Ross, as freakish as he is, he didn’t start a game until this year. It’s hard as a true freshman, especially at that position. That’s not normal,” Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Christian played starter snaps as a freshman but he wasn’t a starter. Dexter, it took two games. … it’s a big deal. He’s got great maturity to him, a focus to him that’s just different.”
Davis isn’t just a starter for Venables’ defense, he appears to be the defensive tackle that the Tigers trust the most.
The former four-star recruit played 44 snaps in Clemson’s 24-10 victory over Texas A&M in Week 2. Senior defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney played the second most out of the defensive tackles with 27, while redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams played 11.
“There was no doubt when he was declared a starter,” Venables said, “because he was by far the best guy over a long period of time during fall camp, and in the spring as well when those other guys were out.”
Davis has seven tackles, including half a sack thus far, and he isn’t letting his early success go to his head.
Instead, Davis is still constantly in the film room searching for ways to improve.
“I always try to just do anything to get me better and just watch film of guys like Christian and Dex and see how they were so great at what they were doing,” Davis said. “Just the way they play the game. They always play with great effort. They play the game how it should be played, so I just try to simulate that.”
It remains to be seen if the guy Lawrence refers to as his son can go on to follow in the footsteps of Lawrence and Wilkins and have a strong career at Clemson before becoming a first-round pick, but if his first several months on campus are any indication, Davis has a bright future with the Tigers.
“I just try to be the best I can be, be the best Tyler,” Davis said. “Whatever happens from there happens.”
Who: Clemson at Syracuse
When: 7:30 pm Saturday
Where: Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York
Line: Clemson by 27.5