By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Stephone Anthony had every right to resent Spencer Shuey. After all, Shuey took something that was his.
But instead of playing the blame game after he was demoted in favor of Shuey at the Mike linebacker spot last season, Anthony looked in the mirror and changed what he saw, devoting himself to making improvements in anticipation of a second chance.
“I took the time to study the game a little bit more,” Anthony said. “I got a better understanding of my job and what people were doing around me. I think that’s the reason that I stayed where I was.”
Based on a productive offseason that inspired confidence in his coaches, Anthony now finds himself back at Mike, with his once-rival Shuey alongside him at Will linebacker. The tandem will debut on Saturday against Georgia with the shared purpose of helping elevate Clemson into the national title picture.
Shuey’s presence injected some life into the Tiger defense last season, so Anthony’s reemergence meant a logjam at a key position. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables made a move, installing Shuey on the weak side and allowing Anthony to roam the middle at the position he was recruited to fill.
The two are expected to be impact players for Clemson’s defense in 2013, and they understand they need to depend on each other. The offseason was spent developing such a bond—both on and off the field—and now there is a certain comfort level between them.
“Even when we were competing, we were still good friends,” Shuey said. “This year, being able to be out there with him on the field and battle with him, we’re able to help each other out a lot.”
“When I don’t have it, he’s got it,” Anthony said. “When I don’t know it, he knows it.”
The dependence is good for Anthony, who watched his playing time dwindle as Shuey’s rose last season. At times, Anthony admits he was paralyzed by an unsure approach to his assignments. But the demotion was exactly the thing that brought the big picture into focus for the former blue-chip recruit.
“You’re never as good as you think,” Anthony said. “It was good for me. I needed that. It was a humbling situation. I took it right on the chin.”
Now the Tigers have a pair of steady linebackers to help quarterback the defense in a variety of situations. In nickel packages—when a linebacker gives way to an extra defensive back—both Anthony and Shuey expect to be on the field this fall. The trust they have learned to place in one another is shared by Venables and his staff, who now trust both of them with a position critical for breeding successful, physical defenses.
“It’s important to have that relationship on the field if you’re playing with each other and be able to communicate efficiently,” Shuey said. “I think that we’ve been able to build that bond. We’ve been working well together and look forward to competing in a game together.”
On Saturday night, for the first time in a while, Anthony and Shuey will both be running with the first team on defense. Neither will be watching the other one, just waiting for a shot to get back into the game.
Now they will be aiding and cheering one another in a pursuit for ball carriers, not trying to leapfrog each other in pursuit of a single role.