Looking to lead the linebackers

Looking to lead the linebackers

Football

Looking to lead the linebackers

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By William Qualkinbush.

By William Qualkinbush

In Saturday’s stadium scrimmage—the first of the preseason camp—Tajh Boyd made one mistake. He threw a ball right at linebacker Quandon Christian.

“I was just reading his eyes. I actually don’t think he saw me,” Christian said. Then he grinned ear-to-ear as if to say it really didn’t matter. They both knew who bested whom on the play.

Friendly rivalry aside, Christian and Boyd genuinely like each other. They are roommates, which is a bit ironic considering many have looked for the Tiger linebacker to become the quarterback of the defense in many regards this season.

At the conclusion of Saturday’s intrasquad competition, there was a buzz in Memorial Stadium, and it was not because of the performance of the defense. Both sides admitted there were a bunch of explosive plays and scoring opportunities throughout the scrimmage.

Still, Christian said the first scrimmage of the preseason was a positive thing. According to several players, the issues are things that can be fixed before the season opener against Georgia on Aug. 31 (8 p.m., ABC), when Christian and his teammates will need to be sharp and confident.

“I definitely think we’ll get better,” he said. “Most of those mistakes are correctable, so we just have to figure out how to adjust and improve.”

As a whole, the Clemson linebacking corps is held in high regard this season. Christian is not the only solid leader within the group. Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony continue to blossom as vocal forces in the locker room and in meetings, which Christian says is a major asset for him as a senior looking to carve out his own leadership niche.

“People listen to Stephone and Shuey,” he said. “Those guys have really stepped up big time. It’s good to have guys that are focused every single day so that the younger players can have somebody to look up to.”

Christian is listed as the starter at strong side linebacker, meaning he will occupy the strong side of the formation this year. As the SAM, much of his responsibility will be in coverage, and chances are he will play fewer snaps than Shuey or Anthony this season because of the use of five defensive backs, when the Tigers are in their nickel coverages.

For this reason, Christian worked feverishly to improve his pass coverage ability during the off-season. He feels more able to contribute on an every-down basis now than at any previous point in his career.

A major part of his development, he says, has been the infusion of energy provided by defensive coordinator Brent Venables. The Tigers’ linebackers coach has a long track record of success at the highest level in terms of developing pros at the position, and Christian feeds off the positive aspects of his character every day.

“He brings that intensity every day,” Christian said. “That’s been really good for us. We’ve learned a lot from him.”

Suffice it to say that Boyd probably won’t want Christian to be smiling at him during future scrimmages and practices. Tiger opponents might want to adopt a similar attitude.

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