Dexter Lawrence on top at Clemson
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Dexter Lawrence on top at Clemson

Defensive tackle projected as first pick of 2019 NFL Draft

Photo: Dexter Lawrence

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney brought two players large in stature to the recent ACC Kickoff media days. Their combined weight – literally and figuratively – strained the platform.

  • Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is a 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior projected as a top-10 choice in the 2018 NFL Draft. In the preseason, he has been named a first-team All-ACC pick and to the watch lists for the Outland Trophy, Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award. He’s coming off of third-team All-American honors by the Associated Press and a first-team All-ACC last season.
  • Guard Tyrone Crowder is a 6-2, 349-pound redshirt senior rated the No. 2 guard in the nation on most 2018 draft boards. The third-year starter is a preseason first-team All-ACC pick and has been named to the watch list for the Outland. Last season, he was a first-team All-ACC selection.

The platform’s nuts and bolts were tested to hold up their combined weight, and that’s doesn’t include Clemson’s best lineman, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. In fact, the 6-5, 340-pound true sophomore might be the best player on the Tigers’ roster. He’s been mentioned as the No.1-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, when he first becomes eligible

Swinney said Lawrence showed up as a freshman last year looking like a senior on his way to the NFL.

“I’ve never seen a guy that size move like him,” Swinney said. “Christian Wilkins was different when he showed up, but Christian wasn’t 340 pounds. Dexter is a 340-pound man.”

Lawrence started 11 of 15 games for the national champion Tigers, was fifth on the team in tackles with 79 and set a Clemson freshman record with seven sacks. He earned multiple Freshman All-American honors, ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, second-team All-ACC and All-ACC Academic recognition.

Wilkins played defensive end last year, but in 2017 Lawrence and Wilkins are defensive tackles on the depth chart. That’s 680 pounds for opposing offensive linemen to try to move for any kind of running game up the middle.

Look for Clemson’s linebackers to enjoy the luxury of cheating to the outside.

“I’m really looking forward to what we are able to do,” Wilkins said. “There’s a lot of talk about that, but we both know we’ve got to put in the work. We both have a lot of potential and we both haven’t reached our fullest potential yet as football players. I’m pushing him every day, and he’s pushing me.”

Work ethic is one reason Lawrence played beyond a normal true freshman in 2016. He was known at Wake Forest High near Raleigh, N.C., for focusing on techniques despite physical advantages that could flick away high school kids like gnats. Most talented physically superior high school athletes don’t understand the value of techniques until college,when they find themselves facing men their size.

I saw Lawrence play in high school, and I haven’t seen a high school athlete with his size and natural strength and quickness since Darrell Russell (6-2, 325), who was all-everything coming out of St. Augustine in San Diego.

But otherwise, there is no comparison between the two. In high school, Lawrence was a team leader; Russell went through the motions.

In college, Russell’s motivation was called into question at USC despite the notice he gained for his potential.

In the NFL, Russell’s “measurables” made him the second pick of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Russell began to play up to his potential early in his NFL career, but without an ingrained work ethic, he found trouble. He missed one-and-a-half NFL seasons due to drug suspensions. He was indefinitely banned before being killed in a 2005 car crash at age 29.

Lawrence is low maintenance for Clemson.

“He’s a very gifted young person,” Swinney said. “He’s been incredible impactful since he got there. He’s a great young man, first of all. He has a great spirit to him. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he has a very fun personality. And he just went to work when he got here and competed. Shoot, he made an impact Game 1,  with some big plays at Auburn.”

Clemson has questions to answer, as the Tigers look to defend their national title, but play at defensive tackle isn’t one of them.

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-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

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Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

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