Clemson University

Tigers' freshman class ready to contribute

CLEMSON -- Clemson freshman Miguel Chavis was initially skeptical about shifting from defensive end to the interior.

Chavis, who started at end for Hargrave Military Academy last fall over USC's Clifton Geathers, had enjoyed the luxury of playing with enough space on either side to slide around an offensive lineman.

When Tigers coaches switched Chavis to their nose position early in camp, he wondered if, at 265 pounds and growing, he might also be undersized.

Turned out his anxieties were for naught. Chavis said he prefers the new location; the square footage might be reduced, but the view cannot be beat.

"You can almost touch the quarterback before the snap," Chavis said. "You're right there in the middle of it all."

The same apparently can be said for Chavis' freshmen counterparts.

Minor injuries to three members of Clemson's starting defensive line -- bandit end Ricky Sapp and tackles Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson -- have given the focal point of the Tigers' recruiting class a chance to show its wares against someone other than fellow newcomers or scout-squad reserves.

Consequently, coordinator Vic Koenning said several of last week's practices were "really humming" because of the energy infused by the newcomers, most of which project as contributors -- some as soon as this season.

"There isn't a drop-off in talent on the second team like there used to be," Scott said.

Seven of its 21 freshmen are defensive linemen, and the early returns suggest the touted ones could live up to their billing.

Three have made strong cases to avoid redshirts:

• Chavis (6-4, 265), who was also pursued by Alabama and Georgia when he de-committed from North Carolina, is neck-and-neck with sophomore Antwon Murchison to be the fourth interior lineman, position coach Chris Rumph said. Junior Jock McKissic is the top backup at both spots.

• Kourtnei Brown (6-5, 220) has shown the raw tools to be a star at bandit end and is being penciled in for limited time behind Sapp.

• Jarvis Jenkins (6-4, 316), a dancin'-bear type, garnered some snaps with the first team in Saturday's scrimmage because of Scott's sprained ankle.

Meanwhile, Andre Branch and Rennie Moore have had their moments at strongside end but seem locks to sit because of Clemson's veteran options there.

While three consecutive top-25 recruiting classes have increased the team's overall talent level, coaches had identified the defensive front seven -- linemen and linebackers -- as the area where it still lagged behind the likes of Florida State and Miami in terms of aggregate athleticism and depth.

This class is being counted on to narrow the gap, and more help is on the way. The Tigers already have a commitment from Bamberg-Ehrhardt blue-chip tackle Daquan Bowers, junior college end Jarrett Crittenton and are favored to land Brandon Thompson, a highly pursued tackle from Thomasville, Ga.

"Last year, we had to hit on a few good ones, had to," Koenning said. "You try to do it most every year, but some years you're able to, some years there aren't as many guys or some you just don't hit on. You get them when you can get them because they are such a commodity."

Clemson did not practice Sunday, its first break since opening camp Aug. 4. The Tigers return to practice today.