2011 Clemson Pre-Camp LB Analysis

Clemson has had obvious problems at the linebacker position for some time now, we haven't been dominant at the LB position since the 90s and hasn't had exceptional players here since Anthony Waters left. The core issue though for the last half decade is a product of a philosophical defensive shift.  Vic Koenning implemented a 4-2-5 scheme that would drop the SS into the box as necessary, his SAM LB was actually a SS, which is why McDaniel had no problem transitioning.  Clearly, linebacker recruiting is not as big of an issue for such a strategy. To make that scheme work, which was spot drop zone, you could use guys who werent good at M2M coverage, and they were allowed to play looser assignments. You only needed a 3 deep at 2 true LB spots as well. 

Kevin Steele's scheme is multiple set 4-3 base and requires stout play out of the linebackers. They have to be in M2M a lot, and have to be disciplined.  Long and short, we knew we would struggle here until Clemson focused on LB recruiting and built some quality depth in this key position.  We are clearly moving forward in this area on the recruiting trail and think we'll see better linebacker play with more experience under Steele's watch.  Here is how we graded this group out following the 2010 season. We spent a lot of time this Spring detailing the LB position play as well, in the strategy section.  Here is a brief quote on we think about the LB position in Steele's scheme:

The LB position is unique and probably the toughest on the field to play because of having both run and pass responsibilities on every play and coverage call. Players have to be smart, disciplined in reading keys, and with enough size to tackle big backs and handle linemen blockers, and still cover smaller RBs and TEs in man/zone coverage. Clemson primarily played a mix of Robber and 2-Man coverage in 2009, but played much more matchup zone in 2010.

Veterans

Clemson loses Brandon Maye from last season through a transfer to Mississippi State.  Although Maye started his fair share of contests last season, he saw a dramatic drop in snaps from '09 due to injury and competition.  This intuitively leads you to believe that Maye wouldn't have received any more snaps than last season had he stayed AND the underclassmen were improving rapidly. 

Outside, you will see Tig Willard fill the weakside linebacker role this season.  We have high expectations for Tig in '11.  He should be improved after recovering from an elbow injury that hindered him last season and with gained experience under Kevin Steele.  I heard a lot of good things about his performance over the Spring and expect to see improvement at WILL this season.  He will get his shot to hold the job.

Vic Beasley made the transition from offense to defense over the Winter.  Beasley used most of last year's redshirt season on the offensive scout team, so he's been the forgotten man at LB.  The former TE has talent but will need some reps here to seriously challenge for PT and could easily be passed on the depth chart this fall by incoming freshman Stephone Anthony.

Corico Hawkins returns as the starting middle linebacker.  Hawkins had a pretty good season in '10 despite his size.  While Hawkins may not be the most talented player at his position this season, he surely will retain his starting role because of his defensive "quarterback" role.  Hawkins does a good job putting folks in the proper place and making the correct calls in Steele's complex defense, which is a very, very difficult role to fill. We expect him to hold off the freshmen deep into the season.

Spencer Shuey got around 70 snaps last season in the middle.  We've noted Shuey's mobility issues here at STS and the coaches noticed this too, giving him rep's at bandit end this Spring.  Shuey's playing time (and depth chart position) will largely depend on the incoming health and development of Tony Steward. Look for a move.

Justin Parker got a (very) few snaps at MLB last season. We are still perplexed how he evaded a redshirt and think the staff missed the boat by playing him for a mere 56 snaps in '10. They did this young man a great disservice wasting a year of his eligibility.  We believe that Parker will see playing time this season at the SAM position but, because of last season's experience, could pop up in the middle should Steward redshirt because of the knee.  Parker has all the talent to make things happen and had a productive Spring.  We expect him to see the field more this season but he still needs to develop through the Steele system to live up to the hype garnered during last year's Signing Day.

Quandon Christian is the incumbent at SAM. We are very high on him. He had a very good freshman campaign and everything we've heard points to him improving every day.  Christian bulked up and you may see him play closer to the LOS than last season.  Barring injury, he will start every game next season.

Daniel Andrews, who was injured in the GT game, can provide depth at any of the three linebacker positions.  With the influx of outstanding talent, we don't see Andrews seeing significant playing time at the linebacker spot but may see the field on the kickoff or punt team.

Veteran Clemson Linebackers

#

Player

Pos.

Hgt.

Wgt.

Cl.

Exp.

Hometown

HS/JC

3

Vic Beasley

LB

6-2

225

*Fr.

RS

Adairsville, GA

Adairsville HS

8

Justin Parker

LB

6-1

225

So.

1VL

Port Royal, SC

Beaufort HS

33

Spencer Shuey

LB

6-3

250

*So.

1VL

Charlotte, NC

South Mecklenburg HS

34

Quandon Christian

LB

6-3

215

*So.

1VL

Lake View, SC

Lake View HS

39

Steven Demaras

LB

6-1

220

Sr.

SQ

Westford, MA

Westford Academy

41

Daniel Andrews

LB

5-11

210

Sr.

3VL

Jacksonville, FL

Trinity Christian Academy

42

Corico Hawkins

LB

5-11

230

Jr.

2VL

Milledgeville, GA

Baldwin HS

46

Jonathan Willard

LB

6-2

220

*Jr.

2VL

Loris, SC

Loris HS

47

Ryan Pruitt

LB

5-11

215

*Fr.

RS

Greer, SC

Dorman HS

49

Isaac Harris

LB

6-2

220

*Jr.

SQ

Leesville, SC

North Dakota State College of Science

Incoming Freshmen

Clemson had an excellent recruiting cycle, possible the best in school's history. At least the best since 87. Two '11 signees, Steward and Anthony, could come in and make an immediate impact on this team.  You'll hear us repeatedly talk about the talent of this class because, well, it is nothing short of impressive.

Stephone Anthony will press Willard for playing time this fall.  Anthony could play any of the three linebacker spots but we see him pushing for immediate PT at WILL. Anthony excels in coverage, and with his instincts vs the rush, he's suited for the weakside spot.  Our thought behind this positioning is the possibility of placing Steward at MIKE and Parker at SAM.  Anthony is too talented to stand on the sidelines or play scout team...he will see significant time on the field in '11 and will push Willard throughout camp for a starting spot.

Tony Steward's story is similar to Anthony's.  He has enough talent to push for a starting spot immediately.  The big question here is Steward's knee.  He missed significant time last season and needed December surgery to repair an ACL injury sustained last fall. Clemson doesn't exactly have a great track record with joint injuries, so if there is any doubt, he should get the RS.  If Steward comes into camp 100%, he will push Hawkins but will face a sharp learning curve in Steele's scheme.  Steward is better than Shuey and the staff will use this extra depth to get Shuey some reps elsewhere.  A healthy Steward also allows the staff to rep Justin Parker at SAM instead of splitting time between MIKE and SAM.

Lateek Townsend is another highly touted backer for the 2011 class.  Townsend will definitely play outside while at Clemson, but exactly which spot is debatable.  I prognosticate he'll drill this fall at the strongside linebacker position and redshirt in 2011 due to newfound linebacker depth, especially at SAM if Parker can be moved here permanently.  DrB thinks he suited more for weakside LB because of his recklessness, lack of physical size (most important at SAM), and prevalence for pass rushing (WLB blitzes more in this scheme). Hopefully Townsend uses his 2011 redshirt season to bulk up and mature both on and off the field.  We all saw him show his ass at the Army All Star game last Winter, have seen some questionable social media comments, and heard of his January arrest for driving under a suspended license.  These show immaturity and a "look at me, look at me" attitude that is not flattering for the school and/or the individual.

Both B.J. Goodson and Colton Walls are currently slated for a redshirt in 2011.  Goodson has adequate size that would allow him to play immediately if needed, and he is a future MLB. He is a hitter, which we love. If Steward RSs, Goodson plays, or vice versa. We thought that Colton Walls would be moved the offensive side of the football and, with limited depth at fullback, still believe this is an option.  Walls will likely see a redshirt for '11 and replace Chad Diehl later. He wont play LB at Clemson.

Recruiting Class of 2011 Linebackers

NAME

Position

Hometown

High School

Ht/Wt/40

Rivals Rating

Assigned Recruiter(s)

Stephone Anthony

LB

Wadesboro, NC

Anson

6'3"/220/4.5

5 stars

Kevin Steele, Dan Brooks

B.J. Goodson

LB

Lamar, SC

Lamar

6'1"/225/4.7

3 stars

Kevin Steele 

Tony Steward

LB

St Augustine, FL

Pedro Menendez

6'2"/225/NA

5 stars

Jeff Scott 

Lateek Townsend

LB

Bennettsville, SC

Marlboro County

6'2"/197/4.6

4 stars

Kevin Steele 

Colton Walls

LB

Charlotte, NC

Latin

6'1"/215/NA

2 stars

Danny Pearman 

 

Clemson's linebacker position struggled mightily transitioning into Steele's scheme. We told you that there would be growing pains but were encouraged by the gains Alabama saw after a couple years in the Steele/Saban system.  We think that the infusion of talent combined with added experience elevates this group substantially over what we saw two seasons ago.  Further, new players are pushing veterans and elevating overall quality at this position.  We should see continued improvement through camp from seasoned players as well as the talented newcomers from the 2011 recruiting class.  I won't go so far to say that all of our linebacker woes will be gone by Troy but will say that this group is on a fundamental and talent path to being good in the near future.

As far as when you'll see the freshmen play, it'll probably be Anthony first. Steward would be eased into his role at MIKE because its a more complex field general position. The returning guys will play and start, but by the end of the season we do think one of these two freshmen gets to a starting level.

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