This is going to take a little getting used to.
In 2014, Clemson’s defense is going to be the strength of the team. It's not Sammy Watkins. Not Tajh Boyd. Not Martavis Bryant. All household names who have to be replaced next season in the Tigers’ starting lineup.
Welcome back, Vic Beasley.
Beasley’s decision on Wednesday to return for his senior season instead of leaving early for the NFL draft gives Clemson seven returning starters on defense, including all four starters up front on what should be one of the best defensive lines in the country. For years, Clemson’s offense has driven the program while the defense has been the much-maligned and often criticized group.
Expect that to change, starting this spring when a veteran defense takes the field well ahead of a rebuilding offense that will return just five starters. With Watkins and Bryant leaving early for the NFL draft, Clemson finally scored a victory when Beasley -- a projected second-round draft pick at defensive end -- decided to stay.
Clemson’s defense made significant strides this past season, its second under coordinator Brent Venables, and 2014 should be even better. It all starts up front with Beasley, who led the ACC in sacks with 13, finished second in tackles for loss with 23 and had four forced fumbles -- all in his first season as a full-time starter. He played just 304 snaps over his first two seasons but enters his final season with 21 career sacks and is just eight shy of breaking the school record of 28 held by Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams.
It’s not just Beasley, though, who will make Clemson’s defense so strong this fall. The defensive line is a deep and talented group that also includes senior Corey Crawford at the other end position and returning starter Grady Jarrett, a defensive tackle who will be a redshirt senior. Three other players -- Josh Watson, D.J. Reader and DeShawn Williams -- rotated at the other tackle spot and will all return. In addition, two players who redshirted last season because of injuries -- defensive tackle Carlos Watkins and defensive end Kevin Dodd -- will also return.
And don’t forget about Shaq Lawson, who had 10 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2013 as Beasley’s backup.
Meanwhile, Clemson's offense has to replace its starting quarterback, its leading receiver and its top running back.
The good news?
It doesn’t have to replace Beasley, too.
Clemson’s defense has finally overshadowed its offense. Get used to it.