Swinney says the senior earned it
Last year, Kendall Joseph played the weakside position all season. The now senior was very productive there, totaling 87 tackles, which was second on the team behind All-American Dorian O’Daniel’s 104.
So it was reasonable to think, especially with Tre Lamar back at middle linebacker where he started eight games before what turned out to be a season-ending injury against Florida State, Joseph will again be the starter on the weakside. However, at least as far as the preseason depth chart goes, Clemson’s All-ACC linebacker will begin fall camp in the middle, not Lamar.
“It’s what Brent (Venables) felt like gave us the best chance on Day One,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said earlier this week when asked about Joseph listed as the starting middle linebacker. “We felt like they are where they need to be based on what the guys earned.”
In case you missed the depth chart at linebacker when it was released last month, Lamar is backing up Joseph in the middle, along with Chad Smith and Judah Davis. J.D. Davis is the starter on the weakside and is being backed up by James Skalski and Shaq Smith, while Isaiah Simmons is listed as the starting strongside backer and nickel back. Jalen Williams is listed as his backup, followed by freshman Mike Jones.
Swinney said these are all decisions Venables, Clemson’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, made based on what he felt was deserved from what he observed during the Tigers’ 15 spring practices.
“It just kind of helps with the whole picture on how we want to position those guys for the reps we needed to get and what he wanted to get accomplished this spring,” Swinney said.
Obviously this will not be the first time Joseph has played in the middle. He started all 15 games for the Tigers during their national championship season. That year he finished second on the team with 124 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
In the College Football Playoff that year, he had eight stops, one for loss, and a caused fumble in the Tigers’ 31-0 win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. He followed that up with nine tackles, including 2.5 behind the line of scrimmage in beating Alabama in the national championship game.
“He can play either one. He has no problem playing either position,” Swinney said. “We have several guys like that … they can slide in or out.
“He is just kind of the quarterback of the group right now. We just wanted to start that way. Again, knowing we have a lot of flexibility.”
J.D. Davis, James Skalski, Judah Davis, Jones, Williams and Shaq Smith all have the ability to move to different positions at linebacker.
“There are about five or six guys at that linebacker position that we think are very functional and can play and that we can win with,” Swinney said. “They give us some diversity with how we move them around.”
Clemson will begin fall camp in August.
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