By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
GREENSBORO, N.C.—Before the Georgia Tech game last season, now-senior Spencer Shuey was inserted into the starting lineup as the MIKE linebacker for Clemson’s defense. The move also removed then-sophomore Stephone Anthony, a high-upside prospect, from the starting lineup.
Shuey’s play over the latter half of the 2012 campaign earned him a starting nod again heading into preseason camp in 2013. But this time, Anthony will be playing alongside him after doing some developing of his own.
“We have some great camaraderie out there on the field,” Shuey said during the ACC Football Kickoff at the Grandover Resort. “We get along really well. We’re always thinking the same thing, so it’s a lot easier being able to communicate. I think our relationship has been really good. It will definitely help our defense.”
During the spring, Shuey moved to WILL (or weakside) linebacker, while Anthony was re-installed as the first-team guy at MIKE. Having both backers on the field at the same time proved advantageous at times last season.
The complementary nature of the Anthony-Shuey tandem is striking. Anthony is an advanced athlete who moves well in space, while Shuey is a ball hawk who treasures contact and plays faster than his timed speed would indicate.
Instead of picking either of them, defensive coordinator Brent Venables and the defensive coaching staff can choose both this season.
“Stephone has always been a great player,” Shuey said of his teammate. “He’s an incredible athlete and an incredibly smart guy.”
Shuey says he did not have a preference which position he played, but when approached about making the switch to the weak side, the North Carolinian chose the option he felt made his team better.
What he found was that the change of perspective also made him a better football player.
“It’s definitely helped me understand everyone’s role on the defense and what’s going on around me a little better,” Shuey said. “I feel like it’s going to make me a better player.”
Shuey looks forward to the challenge of leading a defense that is seen as a question mark in certain places, a potential hindrance to an elite offense’s ability to win it all—and not just in the conference.
“There were times last year when we showed qualities of being a great defense, but there were other times when we could’ve been called the worst defense,” Shuey said. “As long as we’re more consistent and play to our standard—our ability—as frequently as possible, that’ll be the biggest difference.”
The Clemson WILL linebacker hears the criticism, and he appreciates it. His sights are set on greater things, and he knows the Tigers will be better equipped to accomplish their highest goals this season with Anthony by his side.
The story began with one guy replacing another, and it ends with the two working side-by-side. It sounds like a story out of Hollywood, but the Clemson Tigers hope it’s simply the recipe for a championship season.