All eyes will be on the ‘middle’ of Clemson’s defense

All eyes will be on the ‘middle’ of Clemson’s defense


All eyes will be on the ‘middle’ of Clemson’s defense


The middle linebacker position at Clemson is an intriguing competition to watch in camp.

Kendall Joseph, who was Clemson’s starting middle linebacker during the national championship season, is listed as the starting MIKE on the Tigers’ preseason depth chart. Last year’s starter, Tre Lamar, is listed as the No. 2 guy.

This is intriguing because everyone assumed Joseph, who started 11 games on the weakside last year, was going to be Clemson’s WILL linebacker. Also, there is this. Rarely does Dabo Swinney bench a starter after he comes back from injury.

However, that’s what seems to be happening here, though Lamar does have fall camp to try and win back his starting job.

Though Lamar is the former 5-star who was recruited specifically for this roll, the Tigers cannot go wrong with Joseph, either. In 2016, Joseph was second on the team with a career-high 124 tackles. He also had 13.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Again, Lamar was built to play middle linebacker. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, he played in 10 games last season before being injured and missing the last four. Of those 10 games, he started in eight of them.

Before the injury, the Roswell, Ga., native was having a good season. He had 52 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three quarterback pressures and a caused fumbled which he recovered himself. The hit he put on Florida State quarterback James Blackman last November—a sack which caused a fumble— was perhaps the hit of the year on a defense that made a ton of jaw-dropping highlights in 2017. It was also just a glimpse of what Lamar is capable of doing.

Lamar was later injured in the FSU game and did not play against The Citadel, South Carolina or Miami. He was available to play in the Sugar Bowl, but Swinney elected to hold him out.

Joseph earned All-ACC honors in 2017, finishing second on the team with 84 tackles from his weakside position, despite missing two games with an injury. He was named Clemson’s defensive MVP in the ACC Championship Game and in the Sugar Bowl.

A few weeks back, when asked why they have Joseph starting at middle linebacker, Swinney said defensive coordinator Brent Venables felt like it was where Joseph needed to be based on what the guys had earned in the spring.

Venables likes the fact Joseph can play any position. He calls him the quarterback of his defense.

It would not be a surprise to see Lamar eventually start at MIKE and Joseph move back and start at WILL, but it should be an intriguing competition to watch play out when fall camp starts in August.


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