Quick Pre-Camp Assessment--The Linebackers

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04: Tavon Austin #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers scores on a 3-yard reception in the second quarter against Stephone Anthony #12 of the Clemson Tigers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Clemson's linebackers come into '12 with a lot to prove. We discussed their play under Kevin Steele in '11 here and were clearly not amused. Clemson did a poor job on many fronts, generally looking sluggish and confused. We hope that Venables can simplify things enough that the players are out there playing instead of thinking then trying to react. We bitched about a lot of linebacker miscues in '11, and I just don't have the time or patience to run back through that list today.

Clemson had no real losses at the linebacker spot. In 4-3 sets, the Tigers will start Quan Christian at SAM backed up by Townsend. Anthony is the man at MIKE, followed by Shuey then Goodson. Tig Willard and Rico Wright begin the year battling for the starting role at WILL with Tony Steward lagging behind these guys. It will be interesting to see the health of his knee. If he has recovered to the point we've heard in the media, there is no reason he doesn't play significantly in '12. Else, the staff needs to redshirt him. There is no need to waste a year and potentially trot this guy out there on a bum wheel. It would be a disservice to everyone to again waste a year of this man's ridiculous talent. As we've said before, Justin Parker is injured, and needs another year to develop, and he will be redshirted this season (should have been redshirted a couple years ago).

What we will see out of Venables is more 4-2-5 and a little less 4-3 Under, but overall the defense is not very different. The Stoops-style, or Kansas State-style to be accurate, of defense is a simpler version of the NFL-style that Steele used, with the same M2M and matchup zone, and is based out of the Under front. We'll see more Over simply because they tend to use this against spread formations. Overall, this means less SAM and more Travis Blanks, but what they are tasked to do with #2/#3 receivers is essentially the same for the two positions. Think of Blanks as being a "pass coverage" SAM LB for now. Townsend will probably be used in some blitz-heavy packages or situations initially. Christian should be in there for most run-definite situations or regular downs, and we really hope this guy finally lives up to his ability.

Clemson played quite a bit of nickel under Steele, specifically against spread style attacks and in passing situations. We were disappointed with Steele's LB substitution patterns and hope that we rotate more guys in and out. This should not be a problem, as this group on paper appears to have ample talent. We want to see these guys out there playing on instinct using good fundamental technique. This is a position where the extra moment thinking or bit of hesitation will kill you. Linebacker is a tough enough position without the guys having to try to dig through tons of rules and information prior to the snap of the ball. This group is seasoned and we expect improvement here, though we are realistic and realize the problems Clemson (likely) will have up front with an inexperienced defensive line could severely test and limit this group. If the defensive line is where we think it is, the coaches will have to be more aggressive with the backers and these guys will be called upon to be a versatile group.

If I see more players waste a season (aka, take three freaking snaps all season and/or trot out injured) instead of taking a redshirt this season, I'll lose it. The Justin Parker decision seems to be a good decision and hope that such decision making continues indefinitely.

Linebacker roster:

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Class

7

Tony Steward

LB

6-0

245

So.

8

Justin Parker

LB

6-1

225

Jr.

12

Stephone Anthony

LB

6-2

235

So.

20

Lateek Townsend

LB

6-2

215

So.

33

Spencer Shuey

LB

6-2

250

RJr.

34

Quandon Christian

LB

6-2

220

RJr.

41

T.J. Burrell

LB

5-11

205

Fr.

42

Corico Wright

LB

5-11

230

Sr.

44

B.J. Goodson

LB

6-0

235

RFr.

46

Jonathan Willard

LB

6-1

220

RSr.

52

Kellen Jones

LB

6-1

225

So.

54

Zach Fulmer

LB

6-0

225

RJr.

Jones must sit a year on transfer rules, while Burrell and Parker are slated for RS.

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