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Clemson X-Factors: Tony Steward

With an alumni list that includes Da'Quan Bowers, Aaron Kelly, James Davis, C.J. Spiller, and Sammy Watkins, Clemson has had its fair share of household names. This year’s team boasts a star-studded defense headlined by Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, and Stephone Anthony. That said, instead of focusing on the star players, this seven part series will focus on those who could have big seasons, but remain unproven, and whose success will go a long way in determining the success of the 2014 Clemson Tigers.

DC Brent Venables will have two new starting OLBs in 2014.
DC Brent Venables will have two new starting OLBs in 2014.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Steward

Fortunately for Clemson, Stephone Anthony decided to return for his senior season (and it should be a big one), but even with his return, Clemson still lost two starting linebackers--OLB Quandon Christian and OLB Spencer Shuey. There is very little doubt the defensive line will be disruptive, but a major factor in how successful the linebacking corps will be depends on how much Tony Steward is able to contribute.

Coming out of high school four years ago, Tony Steward was a tremendous five-star, blue-clip prospect. The 247 Sports Composite ranked him as the best OLB in the class and the fifth best player in Florida, giving him a rating over 99. He chose Clemson over Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and others after being recruited by Jeff Scott.

Despite the accolades during the recruiting process, he hasn't performed as well as we'd like at this point in his Clemson career. He will be a senior in 2014 and for the first time is listed as the starter. He only played in five games as a freshman and tore his ACL during the season (he also tore an ACL in high school). He played in all 13 games in 2012, but only totaled 73 snaps, as he became largely a special teams player. Last season, that number was upped to 167 snaps and he tied for second on the team in special team tackles (7). That's not bad, but he'll be asked for much more in 2014.

Tony Steward is listed as the starting WLB with Ben Boulware as the second-string option. Fortunately, Boulware gives Clemson a little depth at the position, but he too is unproven. Steward, if healthy, has the potential to lock down a starting OLB role and ease the transition from Shuey and Christian. With the already suspect secondary, which will rely on three second-year players in the starting lineup, linebacking cannot be a weakness. Stephone Anthony gives Clemson an excellent MLB. T.J. Burrell, Travis Blanks, Korrin Wiggins, and Dorian O'Daniel put Clemson in solid position at the SLB or nickelback, but they need Steward to emerge as a force his senior in order to have the type of linebacking corps they want.

Also read:
Clemson X-Factors: Joe Gore
Clemson X-Factors: Cordrea Tankersley
Clemson X-Factors: Eric Mac Lain
Clemson X-Factors: Jordan Leggett