Replacing an All-American is never an easy task, but at Clemson, there is no real panic about life after Vic Beasley.
Not with Shaq Lawson ready to step right into the starting job at defensive end.
Lawson learned behind Beasley the last two seasons, and thrived in his role. He is far from an inexperienced youngster -- Lawson has played a combined 632 snaps in two years, making the most of his opportunities.
In fact, Lawson is one of just two players in school history to have at least 10 or more tackles for loss as a freshman and sophomore. Clemson Hall of Famer Anthony Simmons, who made the 50th Anniversary All-ACC team 2002, is the other.
Excellent company indeed. But what is remarkable about Lawson is he did it as a backup.
“I learned a lot from Vic since I got here,” Lawson said in a recent phone interview after practice. “He taught me how to be fast and aggressive. At this level, you need to be fast. He continued to push me every day, so that got me better.”
Lawson, a four-star prospect out of high school, had to spend one year at Hargrave Military Academy before arriving at Clemson in 2013. Being away from the Tigers that one year helped prepare him to have the patience to wait for his chance to start.
“I’ve been patient for a long time,” Lawson said. “When I got here, I was just being patient because I knew I was behind an All-American and I knew my time was coming. My time is here, so I’m going to make the most of my opportunity this year.”
Lawson wants to hit double-digit tackles for loss again this year, but the bigger challenge is ramping up his sacks. Beasley was incredibly gifted at getting off the line quickly, using his speed and athleticism to get past linemen and to the quarterback.
The last two years, Beasley totaled 25 sacks. Lawson wants to get to double-digit sacks himself in 2015. So far, his career-high is four sacks, set during his freshman year. To that end, Lawson has worked hard this offseason to get rid of his body fat and become leaner.
He changed his diet and dropped five pounds, down to 270. Lawson says he feels much faster and not as heavy as he did in the past. His get-off at the line has been a big area where he has felt a difference.
“That’s going to help me a lot so I can finish my rush and finish the sacks,” Lawson said. “That’s my main focus, just getting my body lean and be more of a pass-rusher because I can play the run.”
Lawson must also take a bigger leadership role, now that he is one of the veterans on the defense. Clemson lost all its starters on the defensive line, but the Tigers return many players like Lawson with valuable game experience.
Still, guys like Beasley and Grady Jarrett provided terrific leadership for the entire defense over the last several seasons, leaving a vacuum to fill.
“Shaq is going to be one of our leaders on defense,” coach Dabo Swinney told reporters this week. “Will he be the next Vic Beasley? He has really been productive his first two years. He and [offensive tackle] Isaiah Battle have really been competing and making both players better.”
The biggest goal for Lawson is not his own personal stats, but making sure the Clemson defense remains the elite unit it has become.
“We don’t have any drop-off in the D-line,” Lawson said. “We’ve got great linebackers: Ben Boulware played great for us last year in big games and B.J. Goodson's always been great. In the secondary, we’ve got everybody back. We feel like we’re getting better every day and we’re going to try to be the No. 1 defense again this year.”