Skalski says practice feels like having Wilkins, Lawrence back

Skalski says practice feels like having Wilkins, Lawrence back

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Skalski says practice feels like having Wilkins, Lawrence back

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Along with safety Nolan Turner, linebacker James Skalski is one of the oldest players on Clemson’s defense this coming season.

The veteran, who finished second on the team in tackles behind All-American Isaiah Simmons in 2019, says his goal this year is to be a better extension of defensive coordinator Brent Venables on the field. Skalski says it is his job as middle linebacker to make everyone around him better, so as a whole they are playing good team defense.

The redshirt senior spoke with the media on Monday as he gave an update on practice without Simmons, on the performance of Mike Jones at the SAM position and how the freshmen are doing on the defensive line.

What are you seeing right now from Mike Jones and others at linebacker?

“Of course, when you lose a guy like Isaiah, and a lot of the guys on the backend that we lost, you notice they are gone. But hey, we’re recruiting guys that can replace and fill those jobs. So yeah, he is doing a great job so far.”

What are your thoughts on the new guys?

“I think they are living up to their class rank. They are pretty impressive, honestly, but nothing I have not seen. When I was a freshman, Christian Wilkins and Dexter [Lawrence] were here. It just kind of feels like that again with the talent, with some real freaks out there. We are still talented. We are young and they are learning, but they’re really promising for the first couple of weeks.”

What do you have to work on this spring?

“I think I just have to be an extension of Coach V, really. Me and Nolan are the oldest two guys now on the defense. I kind of know it like the back of my hand. I just need to be the extension of Coach V on the field. I can always get better and do stuff for myself. But I think, what makes a great middle linebacker is making everything around him better, too. That is something I have been trying to focus on. Just knowing everyone’s job and getting everyone on the same page so we can all play good team defense.”

How do you transfer that knowledge to the other players?

“You better know your stuff if you are going to teach something. So, you are going to start right there. If I am going to come out here and talk about being an extension of Coach on the field, I better know what I am talking about. So, that is just to challenge myself, really. Then in doing that and having confidence in the work I did put in to earn that and be confident in what I am saying. I know it. I’m just being a leader. Just being someone they can lean on out there.”

What stands out about the position battle at the SAM spot?

“Nothing really stands out. I think we just have a lot of hungry guys that are eager to play, that want to play and want that job and just want to be on that field. That is the real exciting thing for me is just seeing guys eager to go out there and make plays and eager to learn.”

Does Mike Jones look like a different player?

“Definitely, he has improved a lot, I think. Spring ball is where a player makes a lot of strides, and he is definitely moving in the right direction for the kind of player we are going to need him to be next year.”

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