No one is going to replace Isaiah Simmons.
The former Clemson linebacker, who was selected No. 8 overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL Draft last month, is a generational type player. Simmons could play anywhere and did it well.
Last season, the unanimous All-American logged at least 100 snaps at five different positions. His talents allowed defensive coordinator Brent Venables to do many different things with a unit that finished in the top 6 nationally in scoring and total defense.
And though the Tigers can’t totally replace all the things Simmons could do, they been extremely pleased with the linebacker who will fill his spot at the nickel/SAM position.
“Mike Jones, he was probably one of the brightest spots of spring ball,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “So, that nickel/SAM position, how is that going to sort out. We still have some work to do there behind him. I thought [Trenton] Simpson really came on.”
Simpson, of course, is the freshman linebacker who enrolled in school in January. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Simpson has the size and the athletic make up to become an outstanding strongside backer.
However, Simpson is just a freshman. So, Venables was hoping to develop a true nickel back as well. But injuries at cornerback got in the way. When, and if, the Tigers get back to practice in August they hope to develop someone for that spot, similar to Ryan Carter in 2017.
“We also want to develop a third corner to really go in there and be a true nickel, as well,” Swinney said. “But, again, all of our corners were hurt, so we did not have a lot of depth there.”
Clemson had just three scholarship players available at cornerback due to injuries, and one of them was a freshman in Fred Davis. The other two were LeAnthony Williams and Sheridan Jones. Derion Kendrick, Mario Goodrich and Andrew Booth missed either all or most of the nine spring practices the Tigers were able to get in.
Luckily, the Tigers have Mike Jones, who took a big step forward in his new role as a starter at SAM linebacker.
“I thought Mike Jones had a really, really great spring. He has a big thumbs up by his name right now. I am proud of him,” Swinney said.
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