With Nolan Turner coming back, Clemson's entire starting defense set to return in 2021

Sam Cooper
·2 min read

Clemson will have its entire starting defense back in the fold in 2021.

On Sunday night, safety Nolan Turner announced on Instagram that he will return to the Tigers next season as a sixth-year senior. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA gave all fall sport athletes an additional year of eligibility.

Turner, along with linebacker James Skalski, are taking full advantage of that and will return for a sixth year playing at Clemson.

Turner earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2020 to help Clemson win another ACC title and get back to the College Football Playoff. He finished the season with 66 tackles, six tackles for loss and a team-leading three interceptions. Notably, Turner hauled in the game-winning interception in the 2019 CFP semifinals against Ohio State.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 19: Running back Kyren Williams #23 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is tackled by safety Nolan Turner #24 of the Clemson Tigers in the first half during the ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium on December 19, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Clemson safety Nolan Turner had 66 tackles, six tackles for loss and a team-leading three interceptions in 2020. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

In addition to Turner and Skalski, two draft-eligible juniors — linebacker Baylon Spector and cornerback Derion Kendrick — also previously announced that they will be back in 2021. Spector will be a fifth-year senior in 2021 while Kendrick will be in his fourth year with the program. Some projected Kendrick as a potential first-round pick.

That means all 11 of Clemson’s starters on defense will be with the program when it opens up the 2021 season against Georgia on Sept. 4. The Tigers have depth at all levels of the defense, particularly the defensive line and secondary.

The Tigers were very young up front in 2020, with five-star freshmen Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee seeing extensive playing time along the defensive line. Tyler Davis, a sophomore defensive tackle, also emerged as a strong run-stopper when healthy. Clemson also has Xavier Thomas, an explosive pass rusher who was limited to just seven games this season after contracting COVID-19 in the offseason.

In addition to Turner and Kendrick in the secondary, starting safety Lannden Zanders and cornerbacks Sheridan Jones and Andrew Booth are all set to return.

Clemson won its sixth consecutive ACC title in 2020 but lost to Ohio State 49-28 in the CFP semifinals to finish the year with a 10-2 record. The Tigers are losing star quarterback Trevor Lawrence to the NFL but have sophomore D.J. Uiagalelei ready to step in.

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