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Previewing what Clemsons’ defense could look like in 2023

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Katie Bradham // Senior Photographer

Clemson safety Jalyn Phillips (25), cornerback Sheridan Jones (6) and defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro all announced their return for the 2023 season. 

The Clemson Tigers’ defense will look much different next season than it did in 2022. 

Between reserves graduating and multiple starters heading to the NFL, Clemson will run out some new faces come September. 

First, looking at the front seven, defensive linemen K.J. Henry, Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy, along with linebacker Trenton Simpson, all declared for the 2023 NFL Draft. All four were starters in 2022 and were among Clemson’s most consistent and valuable defenders. 

Luckily for the Tigers, experienced linemen Ruke Orhorhoro, Tyler Davis, Xavier Thomas and Justin Mascoll announced their return for the 2023 season. 

With the return of Thomas and Mascoll, the Tigers hold onto veteran edge rushers who have been with the program since 2018. Meanwhile, Bresee’s departure will be mitigated by Orhorhoro and Davis’ return, which gives the Tigers experience at defensive tackle that would have otherwise been scarce.

Along with returning players, the Tigers’ will bring in a top-15 recruiting class filled with highly-touted defensive linemen, giving defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin a strong foundation to build from.   

Among the incoming freshmen on the defensive line are five-star Peter Woods and four-stars Vic Burley, Tomarrion Parker and Stephiylan Green. Woods is the highest-ranked recruit in the Tigers’ 2023 class, according to 247Sports Composite rankings, while the other five defensive linemen brought in will have ample opportunity to develop into stars. 

The only linebacker to declare for the draft is Simpson, whose impact in the backfield has earned him a first-round selection projection. Credited with 187 tackles, 12.5 sacks and six pass breakups during his time at Clemson, Simpson’s natural ability and production will be hard to replicate.

Still, Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. will return for their junior seasons. Carter has earned praise from head coach Dabo Swinney, who called the linebacker “one of the best pure football players I’ve had in 20 years.” 

Moving to the weak-side linebacker position midseason, Carter excelled and is the presumed starter for 2023.

Next to Carter at the middle linebacker position will be Trotter, who burst onto the scene in the latter half of the year. The former four-star recruit finished his sophomore season with 89 total tackles, 6.5 sacks and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against South Carolina. 

Although the front seven will lose multiple starters, the Tigers’ secondary remains intact, with no significant contributors from 2022 leaving. 

Cornerback Sheridan Jones and safety Jalyn Phillips will both return for a fifth season, the duo announced last week. Both started each game they appeared in last season, giving Clemson even more experience on the defense. 

The same is true for Andrew Mukuba and Nate Wiggins, who combined for 22 starts in 2022 and are entering their junior seasons. Along with Jones and Phillips, Mukuba and Wiggins have proven to be playmakers in the back end, as the pair has a combined 28 pass breakups in their two years on the team. 

The Tigers also come into 2023 with cornerbacks Toriano Pride Jr. and Jeadyn Lukus entering their sophomore campaigns, as well as the addition of several four-stars in the 2023 class. 

While fans will miss hearing the names of Henry, Bresee, Murphy and Simpson being called on Saturdays, the Tigers’ defense has plenty of talent and potential for next season.

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Grace O'Donnell, Sports Editor
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