Isaiah Simmons seems to be a logical choice
For the second year in a row, Clemson must replace an All-American linebacker, who was also a leader and team captain for the Tigers.
Last year, it was Ben Boulware. This year, it is Dorian O’Daniel, a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.
O’Daniel excelled in his senior season at linebacker, leading Clemson in tackles with 104, while also registering 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He also had two interceptions, returning both for touchdowns, a first for a Clemson linebacker.
O’Daniel stepped up in replacing Boulware this past season, so who will replace the Tigers’ All-American linebacker this year, especially at his strongside linebacker position?
Kendall Joseph, who decided to return to Clemson for his senior season, is the obvious choice to replace O’Daniel’s leadership. The Belton, S.C. native has finished second to Boulware and O’Daniel in total tackles the last two seasons.
Despite missing two games due to an injury, the Tigers’ weakside backer tallied 87 tackles and had five tackles for loss and an interception, which came in the ACC Championship Game against Miami. Joseph can play weakside and middle linebacker in Brent Venables’ scheme.
Joseph (6-2, 225) is also a very emotional and take-charge-kind-of-player so he will have no issue getting up in someone’s face to teach or encourage in big moments during a game, something all leaders need to do.
J.D. Davis (6-2, 225) filled in nicely when starting middle linebacker Tre Lamar went down with shoulder/back injury in the Florida State game. Davis was second among all returning linebackers in tackles with 55, including 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
Speaking of Lamar, he should be ready to go in the spring. At 6-foot-4, 250-pounds he is more of a prototypical middle linebacker for Brent Venables scheme and can do so much. He had 52 tackles in 2017, including 5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks.
As far as replacing O’Daniel on the strongside of the field, there are several candidates who can fill that role. Jalen Williams (5-10, 210) was listed as O’Daniel’s backup last season. His coverage skills are perhaps not as polished as O’Daniel’s, but he has the skills to drop in coverage and play the role of a strongside backer as well as the nickel back.
Though he played safety as a redshirt freshman last year, Isaiah Simmons seems to be the logical choice to be the Tigers’ new strongside linebacker. Simmons is one of the most athletic players on Clemson’s roster.
At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he obviously has the size to be a strongside linebacker, but because he is so fast, he can also play the nickel back position. He can cover running backs and tight ends as well as slot receivers, but he can also go get the quarterback and is big and strong enough to play the run as well.
With Simmons in the strongside or nickel position, he can give Venables the flexibility to keep him in the game at all times and have quarterbacks guess what he is going to do next. Simmons, who had 49 tackles as a reserve safety, including 3 tackles for loss, a sack and 5 passes broken up, gives Venables so many options when he is on the field.