When you play behind one of the best players in Clemson history, you can’t be impatient. Mike Jones hasn’t been. He has waited his turn and now he is going to get it.
After waiting patiently for his shot to be a starter at strongside linebacker, Jones will have his opportunity when the Tigers open spring practice Wednesday at the Poe Indoor Practice Facility in Clemson. The former 4-star recruit had to play the last two years behind Isaiah Simmons, who was a unanimous All-American selection this past season and is projected to be a top 10 pick in April’s NFL Draft.
“It hasn’t really been that hard for me. I just love being around the game,” Jones said recently. “I enjoy practice. Practice is a lot of my game reps. And I know it’s just all part of the plan. I don’t really worry about it. When I get my chance to go out there, you try to make your plays while you can. But other than that, I love watching Zay play. I try to emulate what he does. So, everything is just an opportunity to learn and just to have fun and go play.”
In his two plus years at Clemson, including a redshirt season in 2019, Jones has 22 career tackles, a forced fumble and pass broken up. He played in three games in 2018 before being redshirted.
“It’s not really too often, especially linebackers, who just jump into it and then you’re great. It takes years of hard work and patience and just grinding and straining yourself,” he said. “When you go through every day, when it gets tough, you look at those guys and be like, they did it too, it’s OK, keep working and it’s all going to work out.”
Here is a look at what the Clemson depth chart could look like at the SAM linebacker position going into spring practice. The Tigers start spring practice on Wednesday.
Mike Jones, *So., 6-0, 225: Jones has worked hard to get in this position. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has worked with him a lot to get him ready for this moment. Jones is fast and athletic. He has bulked up the last two years so he can fit up in the run fits and be disruptive in the passing game. He isn’t an Isaiah Simmons, but who is? He has the body type and the skill set of former All-American Dorian O’Daniel and now in his third year in the system, Jones is ready to take charge and become the playmaker on defense the Tigers think he can be.
Keith Maguire, *Fr., 6-2, 220: Maguire will likely play on the weakside too this spring. Though he is a redshirt freshman, he is wise beyond his years. Venables likes his mental makeup and his ability to read offenses. He redshirted last year and played in just four games, but he did have one interception in those four games. A talented former 4-star linebacker, Maguire ranked as the best player in Pennsylvania by some services in 2018. He led his team to a third straight Inter-AC Championship in a row as a senior. He had 106 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, five sacks and four interceptions in his last year of high school.
Sergio Allen, Fr., 6-1, 217: Allen enrolled at Clemson in the January so he could participate in spring drills. He is likely to also see time at the weakside linebacker position this spring as well. Allen was a consensus top 200 player nationally who is rated among the top 10 players in the country at his position by ESPN and 247Sports. He played linebacker all four years in high school. He completed his 51-game high school career with 357 total tackles, including 222 solo hits. He ranks in the top five in school history in career tackles. He also posted 45 tackles for loss, including 15 sacks and 48 quarterback hurries. He was named to the 2019 preseason Super 11 team by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, one of the top honors for Atlanta area football players.
—Gavin Oliver contributed to this story
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