When James Skalski announced earlier this week that he plans to return to Clemson for one more season, it meant the Tigers return their top three linebackers for the 2021 season.
The Tigers will also return fellow starting linebackers Baylon Spector and Mike Jones from a defense that finished the year leading the ACC in total defense and was second in scoring, rushing and passing defense.
Clemson also tied for the league lead in total sacks and was second in tackles for loss.
A second-team All-ACC honoree in 2020, Skalski recorded 44 total tackles (3.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups and three quarterback pressures this past season.
Thanks to the NCAA adding another year of eligibility for all student-athletes from the 2020-’21 academic year, the 2021 season will mark Skalski’s sixth year in the Clemson program. The Sharpsburg, Ga., native entered 2020 credited with 166 career tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, four pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 931 snaps over 47 games (17 starts) in his career.
Spector, who was named second-team All-ACC by the Associated Press, started 11 of the Tigers’ 12 games this season, while leading the team with 70 tackles. He also recorded 10.5 tackles for loss, which was second on the team behind freshman defensive end Myles Murphy. His 4.5 sacks led the Clemson defense.
Jones played in 10 games for the Tigers this past year, while staring seven of them. He recorded 29 tackles from his strongside position, including four tackles for loss. He also had two interceptions.
Freshman Trenton Simpson came on down the stretch for Brent Venables defense and filled in nicely for Jones when the redshirt sophomore was injured and missed two games because of a nagging hamstring injury.
Simpson played in all 12 games and started three, including in the Sugar Bowl. He recorded 32 tackles this past season, including 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. The freshman had two tackles for loss and a sack among his five tackles in Clemson’s ACC Championship win over Notre Dame.
Clemson is expected to have Jake Venables back in the mix, as well as return Keith Maguire, Kane Patterson and LaVonta Bentley.