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Who is Playing? Linebacker

In this article we'll look at the Linebacker participation charts. While Clemson plays a 4-3 base, we're almost never in a 4-3 set. We occasionally show the 3-4 as a changeup, but its usually in the single digits in terms of snaps played. Kevin Steele prefers the matchup of a Nickel corner anytime the opponent runs a 3 or 4 WR set out there, so it is often the SAM LB that comes off the field. In the Nickel, we use 2 LBs (Mac and Money), and there is no requirement that the Money be a true LB (Gilchrist often played the Money). Occasionally, against a strong passing squad, you'll see the FS or SS used there.

Our defense has played 9 games with an average snap count of 67 per = 605 defensive snaps total. Starters should rack up about ~650 snaps a year, and it looks like a couple of our guys are going to push close to 700 snaps. Linebackers don't get quite as gassed as DL, but they do need to be spelled. Also, if a guy isn't getting 100-150 snaps minimum over the entire season, he should be redshirting or somewhere else.

Linebacker Participation
Player Snaps Tackles TFL Sacks
Jonathan Willard -WLB 419 58 1.5 0
Corico Hawkins -MLB 481 49 1.5 0
Quandon Christian - SLB 291 30 1.5 0
Stephone Anthony -MLB 131 22 4 1
Tony Steward - WLB 36 5 0 0
Daniel Andrews - SLB 17 3* 0 0
Spencer Shuey -MLB 34 21* 0 0
Justin Parker - SLB 23 9 0 0
Lateek Townsend -SLB 0 11* 0 0

* - Special teams makes up a large majority of these tackles.

I think its obvious who produces the most for his amount of PT. In fairness to Steele, you wouldn't want Anthony thrown to the wolves of Auburn and FSU (8 snaps total), or the misdirection that Wofford will use (9 snaps), and he was held out with injury against BC, but he needs to start right now. His amount of snaps has caught up with Hawkins (both had 27 snaps vs UNC) vs regular offense opponents, and he needs to get the nod now. You cannot have a MLB in this scheme that does not produce. I think Steele is somewhat concerned that Rico will not try as hard once he's demoted, but this defense needs a good MLB that can evade a block, not one that stands there waiting to be blocked. Hawkins had 14 tackles against GT, thanks to them running about 30 dive plays, but he was not present on the pitch and does not make plays. Anthony should get the majority of snaps the rest of the way. We need that speed on blitzes because this defense does not register enough sacks. I don't see Shuey getting on the field more often than goal line sets.

Tig Willard finally started playing like I hoped he would this year, and he's staying in his gaps and doing fairly well against the pass. He lost most of his usefulness early last year because of a bad arm injury, but he's producing now to the point that he's staying on the field as the Money in Nickel sets.

Christian was a guy I thought would produce bigtime this year. He hasn't, and was taken off his spot in the nickel sets as a result of poor pass coverage. A SAM LB in the Under front should be better at setting an edge and getting into the backfield, and I don't know what the problem is with reading keys, but it rests on Steele and Christian.

Even though we thought Justin Parker's "light had come on" this Spring, he isn't getting onto the field either. He shouldve been RS'd last season, and won't get 100 snaps this year. He may actually get less snaps than in 2010. If Christian doesn't want to get it done, then Parker should play more.

Tony Steward, fresh off a knee surgery, wasn't redshirted and backed up Willard. However, with Tig having a good year and Steward clearly a step slow, he wasn't getting on the field. Now we've lost him to another knee injury and will have to petition for a medical redshirt because he's played too many games. Steward was held out of both Auburn and FSU understandably, but did not play enough snaps against Troy, Wofford, VT or BC to justify him not being on a redshirt. I doubt he'd have broken the 100 snap mark even if he'd made it through the year.

The staff did not plan or want to RS Lateek Townsend, and made it to the field after 4 games this year to play Special Teams. I think Townsend should've redshirted because he's a reckless player and needs to learn discipline to play OLB in our scheme. Its clear he won't get enough snaps on defense to justify not taking the RS, even though he's behind Christian, who isn't on every down either.

The overall performance of this defense this year rests on this group of players. Our pass defense has not been as bad as I expected it to be, but this group in the front 7 has played horribly this year, and Steele is in charge of the linebackers specifically. If the young guys aren't producing because the system is too complex, it is time to simplify it. If they aren't producing because of coaching, then its on Steele. Three years into this scheme we should have much better LB play.