Clemson added a pair of freshmen linebackers to the fold in the spring, and the early reports on them from Brent Venables are glowing.
Early enrollees Logan Rudolph and Baylon Spector arrived on campus in January and thus were able to suit up with the defending national champions during spring practice.
Rudolph, a former top-200 national prospect, played only one full season on the defensive side of the ball in high school — and that was at defensive end.
However, according to Venables, Rudolph didn’t look like a player who was seeing his first action at linebacker.
“Man, he was just terrific,” Venables said this week at Dabo Swinney’s media golf outing at The Reserve at Lake Keowee. “He said very little, worked incredibly hard and knew what to do. He found the football. He played super physical and played incredibly hard.”
Making Rudolph’s effort even more impressive is the fact he was coming off of a torn labrum injury that he suffered three games into his senior season and which cost him the rest of the campaign.
As a junior in 2015, Rudolph played defensive end for the first time in his high school career. The native of Rock Hill, S.C., recorded 60 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks as he helped Northwestern High to a 14-1 record and appearance in the 4A Division II state championship game.
Despite his inexperience at the linebacker position, Venables said Rudolph showed a good understanding of it and didn’t have trouble adjusting to the speed of the game as freshmen often do.
“A lot of times when you don’t know what you are doing and you are playing out of your comfort zone, you don’t look like you are playing hard,” Venables said. “You look like you are jogging. That is more of the norm than not and with Logan it was full speed, wide open. He plays very desperate. He is easy coach. He has good quickness and physical toughness.”
Rudolph will get a look at defensive end in fall camp, as well, due to the season-ending neck injury defensive end Richard Yeargin sustained in a June automobile accident.
Rudolph has been tasked to learn the position in Venables’ scheme in case Clemson needs him there.
“Because of the things that happened to Yeargin, we are going to look at him at D-end as well,” Venables said. “That is something he did very well in high school, so he has been working non-stop to bridge that gap in his knowledge base and be ready for fall camp.”
Like Rudolph, Spector showed well at linebacker in spring practice but has the versatility to potentially play elsewhere for the Tigers in the future.
Spector lined up all over the field for Calhoun (Ga.) High during his career, including quarterback, receiver, safety and cornerback.
“I think he can play more than just one position,” Venables said. “You have to zero him in on something in day one, the first time on the field, but we will look at him in the future to move around some.”
Spector earned first-team all-state honors at the 3A level by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a senior in 2016. He led his team with 78 tackles on defense while rushing for 788 yards and 13 touchdowns, and passing for 483 yards and three scores.
Venables was pleasantly surprised by Spector’s performance at linebacker in the spring.
“He comes from a great program, but he never really majored and settled into anything,” Venables said. “So to say all of sudden you are going to be this great linebacker in the first spring on campus in college would have been a stretch.
“He really exceeded our expectations with his knowledge, his feel, his ability to get off blocks —something he had not had to do a ton — and then he was really a physical player this spring.”
Spector endeared himself to Venables through his toughness and coachability, as well.
“Tough guy, easy to coach and very mature,” Venables said. “A lot of guys they have to come in and mature, and he is still maturing, but it was really effortless to coach him this spring.”
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