Two of Clemson’s top returning veterans, linemen Eric Mac Lain and D.J. Reader, spoke Monday at the ACC Media Days in Pinehurst, North Carolina about the upcoming season and how the Tigers plan to replace numerous departed players. All quotes below courtesy of ASAPSports.com.
Q. Y’all were the number one defense in the country last year. You were a big part of that. How much pressure do you feel trying to live up to that standard that y’all set for yourselves last year?
D.J. READER: I don’t think we feel pressure much as a team. I think being the best is something that we were excited about last year. We really know what it takes to get there. We’re just excited to really go to work and get back there again this year.
Q. Tell us about getting there to the quarterback. You’re known for pressure, rushing. Is that part of your sweet spot?
D.J. READER: It’s something I really get excited about. I don’t know what defensive lineman doesn’t get excited about trying to get a sack. It’s something I like. I think everybody does like it. There’s no better feeling. We don’t get to score many touchdowns, so that’s like our touchdown.
Q. In the last several years, Florida State has cast a pretty long shadow. Now people are pointing at you as the favorites. How comfortable are you being the hunted instead of the hunters?
D.J. READER: I think we’re really comfortable. We have this saying that we play Clemson 12 times a year on our schedule. If we can control the things we can control, execute our plan, we can live with any outcome we get. We don’t really focus on being the targets. We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shots.
Q. With Florida State and Clemson going head-to-head for that Atlantic Division title, how have you seen the rivalry develop?
D.J. READER: We know it’s a fun rivalry. Every Saturday we play them it’s going to be a dogfight. We’re out there, kicking, screaming, trying to win. It’s exciting to play in that game. I feel bad for people who don’t get to play in that game.
Q. There’s a lot of focus obviously on you. Talk about the rest of the defensive line at Clemson and what you can say about those guys that help you out to pressure the quarterback.
D.J. READER: Got some great guys around me. Luckily all of them are my best friends. We all kind of came in together. Shaq Lawson, Carlos, Kevin Dodd, my three other starters. I really love those guys, love what they bring to the table. They’re great players. They’ve been great players for years. It’s going to be exciting.
Q. Do you get a little more excited about playing the schools from North Carolina?
D.J. READER: Get excited for every Saturday. Yeah, it’s cool because I see those people from home, there at the games. It’s fun to play in front of your family more and friends. But every Saturday is an exciting moment. It’s an opportunity to go out there and show yourself.
Q. What are your impressions of facing Louisville last year, them coming into the league, being a new rival for you guys in your division?
D.J. READER: They’re a really good team, really talented. They’re coached very well. Those guys work hard. It was really good to play against them. This year we get to take our first trip up there. I’m pretty excited, get to see a new place. I think they’re going to work hard in the off-season. They’ve been working hard this year. I expect them to be just as good as they were last year if not better.
Q. I’m looking at the names of the guys you lost. It’s staggering to think you could be remotely as good. Coach Swinney feels like the first group will be comparable, but maybe not as much depth. How good do you see this defense being?
D.J. READER: I say the sky’s the limit for this defense. Like I said, as a defense and a team, we don’t back away from any challenges. There’s a chip on our shoulders from a lot of doubters out there. We’ve been prepared. Those guys who left prepared us to come in and step up. We don’t think about we lost all these guys. We think about next man up.
Q. What has the conversation been in the locker room, on the field? What’s the mood and energy?
D.J. READER: Energy’s high. Creating a bond. Everybody is excited to go out there and play. From the time spring ended till the time summer started, everybody hit the ground running. It’s been a really good summer. To see those guys develop, myself, even everybody on the team. It’s been fun, really fun.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, D.J. We now have Eric Mac Lain. Questions for Eric.
Q. You were recently nominated for the Good Works Team. Talk about how important that is to you, to give back to the community.
ERIC MAC LAIN: Such an honor, man. I truly believe if you don’t change a place from where you came, you didn’t do your job. We try to use the pedestal we’ve been placed on as student-athletes, especially at Clemson, football is held very high in value. A lot of people look up to us. We have to take that pedestal we get and spread it through the community as we can.
Q. How important is it to get over the Florida State hump? Three years in a row you lost to them.
ERIC MAC LAIN: Really I just think we have to approach it as every other game. Once you start measuring games differently, putting a different value on different games, that’s when you start worrying about them, you lose others. I really think this year we need to focus on Clemson each and every game. Once we take care of our business, we’ll be just fine.
Q. You heard D.J. answer a lot of questions today about the defensive line, replacing the guys. You get to go up against those guys every day in practice. Tell us a little bit about the defensive line Clemson has coming.
ERIC MAC LAIN: Last year having the privilege to go against the No. 1 defense every day in practice was truly a blessing for us in the way we were able to go against and prepare for other teams. I truly think it’s good to be similar this year. At Clemson we reload, we do not rebuild. The athletes we have brung in, I don’t see any drop-off on that defense at all. The athletic ability, the explosion you’re going to see from the D-line is going to be similar to last year.
Q. You have a quarterback who at his best could be an outside Heisman hopeful. He got dinged up several times last year, there’s questions about him this year. What is your take on where that situation is at?
ERIC MAC LAIN: He’s had a tremendous off-season. Obviously he’s been in the training room every day. I think it speaks numbers to his character as an athlete, his want to be on the field, to get up at 6 a.m. every day and be in the training room, the cold tub, the stretches he has to perform. The seven-on-sevens, he looks great, better than ever. The power looks like it’s all there. He’s exploding, doing different jumping drills, sprint through the weight room. He’s a phenomenal athlete. I think we’re all going to see that again this year.
Q. You’re projected as starting guard this season. You lost Isaiah Battle to the NFL. How much do you cross-train personally on the line? Do you look forward to the challenge of maybe providing sport at left tackle if needed?
ERIC MAC LAIN: Yes, sir. I think that’s something that Coach Caldwell has tried to develop in his time at Clemson. He’s wanted those hybrid offensive linemen. Myself this summer, I’ve worked at every position. Taking snaps with Ryan Norton, going on different sides of the line in various different drills we do. If we have to put me out there at left tackle, I’ll be up for the challenge. Obviously if the coaches feel confident in putting me out there, we’ve prepared well and I’m deserving of that. The offensive line is going to be fine. We’re one of the hardest working groups in the weight room in and out, in the trenches. We take pride in that and we’re excited to see our results.
Q. You’re obviously another North Carolina kid that opted to go out of state and play. Do you think there’s a specific reason guys like yourself are going out of state or is it a person by-by person decision?
ERIC MAC LAIN: I think it’s person by person. My father being in the military, we moved around a good bit. So North Carolina was never really a home, it was a stopping point in our destination. Going to high school here, loved it. Love visiting all the different schools in North Carolina. But Clemson has that family feel. Personally none of those schools could offer similar things of that nature. Like I said, it all just came down to that family feel that Clemson has provided.
Q. When you came out of high school your dad really wanted you to play tight end. You’re standing as one of the leaders representing Clemson today. Talk about the switch to the offensive line.
ERIC MAC LAIN: My father was just trying to protect that dream, make sure that nobody tried to change that, if you will. Once we played NC State, I think it was 2012, we had a couple injuries on the offensive line with Tyler Shatley and Gifford Timothy. I came to the realization that I had the next biggest body and could make that transition better than anybody else could. I’m a team guy throughout my career. I think that’s been exemplified. Whatever the team needed me to do, I was going to do. At that point Ryan Norton and myself really talked for hours about the decision until I finally called Coach Swinney and asked him what he thought about. He gave me the head nod. We made that transition with Robbie Caldwell. It’s been a rocky but smooth road. It’s been fun.
Q. Coach Swinney talked last year about finding the right guy, sometimes a struggle there at runningback. What can you say about the arsenal behind you, blocking for those guys.
ERIC MAC LAIN: That’s something that we’re extremely excited about. Not much in the media about the amount of depth and talent we actually do have at runningback. I’m confident we have five guys that could play anywhere in the country, fight for that starting job, they just happen to all be on the same team. It brings a relief on the offensive line knowing you have that much talent behind you. They make you good. Our goal is to make them look as good as possible. They’ve all been working extremely hard. Various rehabs. A couple knee injuries, banged up a little bit. This whole summer, they’ve really looked great. We’re really excited to get those horses running.