Veteran LB shined during Clemson’s limited spring
Clemson will again rely on fifth-year senior linebacker James Skalski to be an anchor in the middle of the defense in 2020, especially with projected top-10 NFL Draft pick Isaiah Simmons no longer a part of the unit.
If his performance this spring is any indication, Skalski is poised to be a guy the Tigers can lean on defensively this season. According to head coach Dabo Swinney, the starting middle linebacker played at a very high level throughout the team’s nine spring practices.
“It’s almost not fair. I just wish they’d take him out,” Swinney said jokingly after Clemson’s first scrimmage of the spring on March 11, which turned out to be its last practice of the spring because of the ACC’s decision to cancel all athletic-related activities in the league through the end of the 2019-20 academic year.
“He is such a good football player,” Swinney added.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables agreed Skalski had an excellent spring following his redshirt junior season in 2019 when he started all 15 games and finished second on the team with 105 tackles, including 7.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, while also recording four pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“He’s even more of a leader,” Venables said during spring practice. “Just having all that experience, 15 games under his belt, the game has really slowed down for him and he’s playing just very precise in everything that he’s doing. He’s playing multiple positions right now and can do it all at a really high level and helps create some depth there so that if somebody gets banged up, he can do more than one thing. But I’ve been really pleased with Jamie and his leadership and how he’s playing right now.”
Skalski enters his final year at Clemson with 166 career tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks over 47 games.
Heading into the 2020 season, Skalski is making an effort to watch film daily and learn the playbook to a T so he can be like a coach on the field for the Tigers.
“I think I’ve just got to be an extension of Coach V, really,” he said. “Me and Nolan are the oldest two guys now on the defense. I’ve got to know it like the back of my hand. I just need to be an extension of Coach V on the field. Because 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, and that’s something I’ve been trying to focus on, just know everyone’s job, get everyone on the same page so we can all play good team defense.”
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