James Skalski will miss a fourth straight game when No. 4 Clemson travels to Florida State this Saturday for a noon kick at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Tigers’ middle linebacker has not played since the Georgia Tech game on Oct. 17 due to a groin injury. Jake Venables will make his fifth start of the season in the place of Skalski, who also did not start in the season opener at Wake Forest due to a targeting suspension dating back to last year’s national championship game.
Venables currently ranks second on the team with 52 tackles and has recorded seven tackles in each of the last three games he has been in for Skalski. However, the redshirt sophomore does not appear to have too much depth behind him. He played 78 snaps against Notre Dame, which was all but two of the Irish’s 80 plays. He played all 63 of Boston College’s snaps.
He played 50 of Syracuse’s 58 snaps on Oct. 24.
The question is where is Clemson’s depth behind Venables? Kane Patterson is listed as Venables’ backup, according to the team’s depth chart, but Patterson has taken just 54 snaps all season. The sophomore took no snaps against Notre Dame, one against Boston College and eight against Syracuse.
Fellow reserves Keith Maguire and LaVonta Bentley have also not played much since Skalski went down with his groin injury.
However, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables says his three young linebackers are progressing and his challenge to them is to do the little things right.
“They are quarterbacks of the defense, so they have to do a good job communicating, adjusting, making checks that we are making, setting the front, lining the right place, putting your eyes in the right spot and making sure if you are supposed to be at five yards on pre-snap that you are not at three yards. When you are supposed to look at No. 3, don’t be looking at No. 1. It is just the little stuff like that,” Venables said. “They are a little more inconsistent than how I would like it, but I am pleased with how they are coming to work every day and we need them.
“But they are eager. They are aggressive. They are strikers. They put in the time. I think they are really close.”
How close might be decided on Saturday.
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