From a numbers standpoint, Ben Boulware can be replaced. From a leadership standpoint, he is irreplaceable.
Boulware was as important to the Clemson defense as Deshaun Watson was to the Tigers’ offense. He brought a never give up attitude that made him one of the best linebackers in the country. Like Watson he studied and prepared harder than anyone.
On the day of the national championship game against Alabama, the All-American called a defensive players’ meeting only, where he set up clips so they could go over things one more time prior to the game. That kind of leadership, as well as the respect he garnered in the locker room, is hard to replace.
But the Tigers will have to as other guys like Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel will have to step up as team leaders. As for who will replace Boulware on the weakside of the defense, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Venables will have plenty of options.
Tre Lamar: The former five-star recruit was primarily a backup in the middle of the defense last season as he played in all 15 games as a reserve middle linebacker. Lamar (6-3, 240) also played on special teams. As a true freshman, he played 102 snaps as a backup to Joseph as he had 22 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He also had seven tackles on special teams.
Shaq Smith: Also a former five-star recruit from the 2016 class, Smith (6-3, 240) redshirted last season after he hit the proverbial wall midway through fall camp. Venables felt a redshirt could help the Baltimore, Md., native learn the defense better as well as get him in better shape for the rigors of a long season. The redshirt season also helped with his discipline when it comes to staying within the defense and with his technique. He will be ready to step in and help this season.
James Skalski: Venables described Skalski (6-2, 230) as a Ben Boulware. He says he plays with the same fire, attitude and determination as Boulware did when he was a true freshman. He played in 14 games last season after Venables decided he could help the team somewhere, which turned out to be on special teams. He record eight tackles on kick and punt coverage, second on the squad. Overall, he had 14 tackles, including two tackles for loss and one sack.
Chad Smith: Also a lot like Boulware, Smith (6-4, 235) plays with a chip on his shoulder which he demonstrated with his team-high 10 special teams tackles. He will also work at middle linebacker in the spring. He too played in 14 games during the Tigers’ run to a national championship. He recorded 19 tackles overall.
J.D. Davis: By the end of the season, Davis (6-2, 225) had earned his way onto the field as Boulware’s backup at weakside linebacker. He was listed as the No. 2 weakside linebacker on the depth chart for the national title game. Davis, the son of former Clemson All-American linebacker Jeff Davis who played on the 1981 national championship team, played in all 15 games last season, including special teams. He logged 80 snaps and had 11 tackles.
We are now taking orders for our limited edition magazine Mission Accomplished. Remember Clemson’s championship season with this great magazine from the staff that covers Clemson football 365 days a year. Order your’s today to make sure you get a copy!