Venables 'would be surprised' if Smith doesn't play

Venables 'would be surprised' if Smith doesn't play

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Venables 'would be surprised' if Smith doesn't play

Clemson linebacker Shaq Smith looks as good as he has since he stepped on campus in 2016, according to head coach Dabo Swinney.

“He’s made great improvement,” Swinney said Thursday after the Tigers’ second full scrimmage of fall camp. “He’s the best he’s been since he’s been at Clemson. Really good progress.”

Smith, now a redshirt sophomore, arrived to Clemson with high expectations as a five-star prospect, second-team USA Today All-American and Under Armour All-American. The former IMG Academy standout was ranked by Rivals as the No. 1 outside linebacker and No. 6 overall player in the 2016 recruiting class.

Many figured Smith would see immediate action in Brent Venables’ defense, but that was not the case. The Baltimore, Md., native redshirted the 2016 season and played mostly on special teams in his first active season as a Tiger in 2017.

It has not been an easy transition for Smith, but the talented linebacker has come a long way according to Venables.

“He’s just been more confident and sure of himself, playing a little bit more aggressively and being a little bit more detailed,” Clemson’s defensive coordinator said.

Venables knew Smith had a lot of learning and developing to do when he came to Clemson, and now Venables feels the 6-foot-2, 248-pounder is ready to contribute on defense in 2018.

Smith is competing at the WILL position with senior J.D. Davis and junior James Skalski.

“The issue that he has, is we have some other guys that are experienced in there, too,” Venables said of Smith. “But I would be surprised if you don’t see him on the field more. He can play winning football for us. So, he’s done well.”

Swinney is pleased with Smith’s progress as well and hopes the best is yet to come for him, starting with his upcoming redshirt sophomore season.

“Hopefully he’ll have his best year as a sophomore,” Swinney said. “He’s only had one year, so this is his sophomore year, and hopefully good things to come this year and down the road.”

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