The Clemson football position group that needs to make the biggest jump this summer

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Trevor Lawrence and Chase Brice both have experience in big games

The Clemson football team’s season opener against Georgia Tech is still more than four months away, and despite the Tigers returning several stars from last year’s national title team, Dabo Swinney insists his club will need all four months to be ready to play.

“We’ve got a lot to do. We’re a long ways away from being a game-ready team,” Swinney said following Saturday’s spring game. “We’ve got everything we need to be a successful team, but still a lot of work to do.”

The position group that has the most work to do between now and the start of the season is clear cut for Swinney – it’s the defensive line.

The Tigers are without all four starters from 2018 in Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant. And while there are some defensive ends that appear ready to step up in 2019, the Tigers are in desperate need of depth at defensive tackle.

“I mean, literally the first day I looked at the depth chart and I’m like, ‘We can’t run that guy out there first, he just got here last week. Surely we have somebody on this team that can run out there first,’” Swinney recalled. “But that’s where we are.”

The group made progress as the spring went along with freshmen Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro and Etinosa Reuben and returnees Xavier Kelly and Darnell Jefferies doing enough to make Swinney encouraged for the future.

Still, they must now make another big jump over the summer.

“Been really pleased with all of those young d-linemen. They’re coming on,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They’re aggressive, have worked really hard knowing what to do. Far from perfect, but really like the aggressiveness, the quickness, the twitchiness of that group.”

Davis in particular was singled out time and time again this spring as the best performer out of the defensive tackles. The Clemson coaching staff has already seen enough from him to know that he can help the Tigers in 2019.

“Maturity and intelligence, he’s got a great work ethic. The maturity allows him to fight through the tough days, the tough moments, the failure that’s a part of the growth,” Venables said. “He’s physically mature, mentally very, very mature. He’s a really smart guy and he’s willing to work. He’s got a great humility to him, super coachable. He doesn’t get his feelings hurt. He’s a very competitive, accountable guy.”

The group will look much different at the start of fall camp with Jordan Williams and Nyles Pinckney, the presumed starters, back from injuries that forced them to miss the entire spring.

But even with those veterans returning, Swinney didn’t hesitate when asked which group he is most concerned with.

“D-line, no question. Those d-tackles. When we get Jordan and Nyles back that’s a game changer, at least from a first group standpoint,” Swinney said.. “But they have to make the most improvement between now and August and they will, because they’re talented and they want to. So that’s the biggest area that I think we’ve gotta really transform.”