Clemson Freshman T.J. Parker Looking Like a ‘Plug and Play’ Defensive End

TJ Parker Jason Priester All Clemson

Clemson defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall entered spring practice with the idea of “no starters.”

Sure, when the Tigers kick off the 2023 season on Labor Day night at Duke, you’ll likely see Xavier Thomas and Justin Mascoll, two veteran pass rushers, lined up first. 

But it’s more about the mentality Hall is trying to create nearly six months away from that first game. He wouldn’t list a pecking order this week. He certainly didn’t want to name a depth chart. 

At a group that lost 10 sacks and only has one returning defensive end who recorded a sack last year (Thomas, 2), there are plenty of reps to hand out this spring. Thomas is rehabbing from a foot injury while Mascoll has also been slowed by health issues. 

That’s put Cade Denhoff, Zaire Patterson, Greg Williams, Armon Mason and others under a microscope in practice, but it’s also opened the door for newcomers. 

One guy who’s stood out to Hall is early-enrollee T.J. Parker, who sounds very much like a player who will see the field quickly this fall for the Tigers.

“He’s he’s doing a great job,” Hall said of Parker. “He’s physical at point of attack. He can rush the quarterback. 

“He’s a what we call a plug and play guy. That means come in day one and you can put him in, he can play and he can execute and and that’s what I wanted when I recruited him and that’s what we got.”

The freshman is a key member of the 2023 recruiting class that saw the Tigers go heavy on defensive linemen with the loss of several guys up front. Parker, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound Phenix City, Alabama, native, was a top-50 prospect coming out of Central High School, and he ranked in the top 10 at D-line in a talent-rich state. 

“He had has a great foundation,” Hall said. “His (high school) D-line coach has done a great job in preparing him for college football. For a young man who should be in in high school to come in and play and execute and do the things that he’s doing on the field as a high schooler, I’ve been very pleased.”

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