By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Many fans expect the defensive line to be the strength of Clemson’s defense this season. Secretly, the linebacking corps thinks it might have something to say about the best-unit conversation.
There are several players capable of having monster seasons for the Tigers at the second level of the defense. Senior Quandon Christian returns to—hopefully, in his mind—lead the charge in 2013 after a highly productive junior campaign.
Before he can become the leader of the group at linebacker, Christian must navigate the re-acclimation period at the beginning of preseason practice. A big chunk of the first few days of practice is installing the plays the Tigers will employ this season, and Christian has been pleased with his recall up to this point.
“I think I’ve pretty much got it down,” Christian said of the playbook. “But I’m still learning every day.”
Brent Venables, Clemson’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, says Christian has shown some signs of being ready and willing to lead. However, he cautions those who might jump to the conclusion Christian is totally ready for prime responsibility right now.
“He’s pretty consistent,” Venables said. “He’s done well. He’s an older guy that understands what we’re doing. You don’t have to motivate him to come to practice. He gives us good, consistent leadership.”
Christian has seen his teammates function at a pretty high level so far in practice. It is largely the by-product of being in the second year of Venables’ system. Everything seems more familiar to the players now, because it actually is more familiar to those who were around a season ago.
“I think everybody knows a little bit more than they knew when he first got here,” Christian said. “It’s making everybody a little bit more comfortable.”
Some have thrown out the possibility Christian could get a shot with an NFL team on draft day after the season. Sometimes, players use draft stock as a motivating factor to improve, but Christian says just being accountable to his coaches, teammates and the fans are enough for now.
“I just go out there and practice every day hard,” Christian said. “Whatever happens at the end of the season will happen.”
One of the reasons he can be confident in his future is the man coaching his position. Venables has a solid track record as a developer of linebacker talent, dating back to his days at Oklahoma. He envisions Christian as one of his protégés and says he possesses all the tools to become a leader in practice.
“He’s high-energy, a great coach,” Christian said of Venables. “He wants us to be our best every day.”
Preseason practice just began, but leadership is already forming that will shape the direction of the Clemson football team this season. Christian is confident he will be in that mix when Aug. 31 rolls around.