Beasley quietly sets standard for Clemson

Two years ago, the Clemson defense was mocked, and Vic Beasley was quiet. He had work to do, playing time to earn.

A year ago, the defense was ignored, and Beasley was quiet. He had a job to win, a reputation to build.

Now, the Tigers' defense is the centerpiece, the foundation for a new-look Clemson team built around a dominant pass rush led by a consensus All-American who's let his play do all the talking. And once again, Beasley is laying low.

"That's just who he is," said head coach Dabo Swinney, "and I don't think he changes his stripes."

There's been a fundamental shift in the perceptions surrounding Clemson this year, as the offense looks to reload after the departures of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and the defense is poised to dominate just two seasons after an epic Orange Bowl disaster that had defined the unit's image ever since.

But if perceptions have changed, Beasley's approach hasn't. He's quiet, contemplative, focused -- still out to prove something no matter how full the bandwagon has become.

"Last year, we had a big chip on our shoulder. The year before, we had a chip on our shoulder," Beasley said. "We're looking to do the same thing this year."

All Beasley did last season was lead the conference in sacks (13), finish fourth in the nation in tackles for loss (23) and help Clemson's defense become the country's most disruptive by a wide margin, recording a total of 123 tackles behind the line of scrimmage -- 12 more than any other school.

So, yes, the haters have largely disappeared, but Beasley is still out to prove something, to leave a legacy that can't be diminished by even the most ardent critic.

"I feel like there's no reason we shouldn't be the top defense in the country," Beasley said. "I feel like I could [be a Heisman contender], but my goal for this year is to win a national championship."

It's some bawdy talk from a guy who doesn't do much talking at all, but whether Beasley wants to embrace this bold new era or not, the truth is, the spotlight is on him now.

"He's tried to be more of a vocal leader," Swinney said. "Vic leads by example, but when he does say something, people are going to listen."

The luxury for Beasley -- both on and off the field -- is that he's not alone, Swinney said.

Sure, it's Beasley getting the bulk of the All-America hype after he chose to return for his senior season, but the Tigers' defense is loaded with seniors, and the likes of Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett don't mind doing the bulk of the talking.

In fact, that's the real difference this year, Swinney said. It's not so much that the highest-profile stars are on the opposite side of the ball, but rather that it doesn't always have to be the stars doing all the talking.

"We had a couple very strong personalities and flashy guys [last year]," Swinney said. "But this is more of a business-as-usual, blue-collar bunch of guys that respect each other."

They'll help supplement Beasley on the field, too, and that's good because the All-American defensive end figures to get plenty of respect -- and attention -- from opposing linemen this year.

And that means Beasley doesn't need to do much talking. He just needs to do what he's always done. He needs to show up, do his job, and leave his mark.

"He's a handful, that's for sure, but he opens other things up for the those other guys," Swinney said. "All he's got to do is go play and do his job."