It’s obvious when a team loses a player like Ben Boulware, people expect a little bit of a drop off.
Boulware was an All-American at Clemson. He was voted as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s head coaches in 2016. He was a two-time All-ACC linebacker and three times he was named the Defensive MVP of a bowl game, including last year’s National Championship Game against Alabama.
However, there is an argument, despite losing Boulware, the Tigers’ overall depth might be better at its three linebacker positions in 2017. The Tigers return starters Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph at the strongside and weakside positions, while Tre Lamar or Chad Smith is ready to take over in the middle. Both bring a little bit of experience from last season and both were highly touted linebackers coming out of their respected high schools when they were recruited to Clemson.
Then there is the talent the Tigers are expected to have in its numbers at linebackers as well. Again, it will be Smith or Lamar in the middle, along with Judah Davis, while Jalen Williams played a lot of football in 2016 and will back up O’Daniel on the strong side.
Then there is J.D. Davis, along with James Skalski and Shaq Smith backing up Joseph on the weak side. But don’t think those numbers get Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables too excited.
Granted, Venables thinks they all have a ton of potential to be really good college football players. However, heading into fall camp, which begins on Aug. 3, he has no idea what to think.
“I don’t know,” said Venables, who is also the Tigers’ linebackers coach. “Not a lot of guys have played a ton. Jalen, Kendall and Dorian are probably my most experienced guys. Skalski played just a little. Chad played just a little. Tre played just a little. J.D. played a little bit and Judah played a little bit. I don’t know.”
To Venables, depth is about proven experience and quality talent, not so much quantity. However, when it comes to talented depth, at least when looking at the recruiting rankings, it’s hard to say the talent is not there.
Lamar was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, as was Shaq Smith, while Chad Smith and Skalski were both four-star prospects. But none of that, or the fact they all, with the exception of Shaq Smith, played last year eases Venables’ mind.
“Depth to me is experienced, proven, it’s somebody that can go in for Kendall Joseph and we are every bit as good,” he said. “There is no drop off. I don’t know that today. We might be, but today I can’t say that is the case.”
Hot off the Press!!! Have you ordered the 2017 Clemson season preview ‘Best is the Standard’ from the staff that covers Clemson football 365 days a year? Order yours today to make sure you get a copy!