A look at Clemson’s 2021 depth chart heading into spring practice: Middle linebacker
Clemson’s depth at linebacker, in particular at middle linebacker, got a major shot in the arm when James Skalski announced in January, he was indeed returning to Clemson for one more season.
Thanks to the NCAA giving student-athletes another year of eligibility due to the pandemic, Skalski was able to take advantage and earn a sixth season at Clemson, joining safety Nolan Turner, defensive end Regan Upshaw and running back Darien Rencher as six-year players on the 2021 roster.
Skalski’s experience and knowledge of Brent Venables’ defense means a lot to a unit that led the ACC in total defense and was second in scoring defense in 2020. Venables and Skalski have great communication and the graduate student is like a coach on the field for the defense.
With his return, along with Turner’s, Clemson brings back 11 starters on defense that started at least three games last season. In addition, they also have 10 other players who started at least one game last year.
The Tigers’ depth at middle linebacker is filled with game and starting experience that should pay dividends in 2021.
TCI’s projected depth chart at middle linebacker heading into spring practice:
James Skalski, Gr., 6-0, 240: Despite missing three games due to a groin injury, Skalski still earned second-team All-ACC honors. He finished the season with 44 tackles, including 3.5 for loss. He also tallied 1.5 sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown. The returning team captain is the only player to have ever played in five ACC Championship Games. He enters 2021 with 210 career tackles. He has 16 behind the line of scrimmage, including 7.5 sacks. He also has seven passes broken up, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He has played in 56 career games which ranks ninth all-time in Clemson history. He has 25 career starts to his credit, as well.
Jake Venables, *Jr., 6-2, 235: Venables played in nine games and earned four starts last season, while earning third-team All-ACC honors by Pro Football Focus. He was credited with 44 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss. Venables also had 2.5 sacks, broke up a pass and forced a fumble. He has played in 26 games in his career, while totaling 84 career tackles, 15 tackles for loss, four sacks, two passes broken up and a forced fumble. Broke his arm at Virginia Tech in the regular season finale and missed the ACC Championship Game and Sugar Bowl.
Kane Patterson, Jr., 6-1, 225: Last year, as a reserve linebacker, Patterson recorded 23 tackles while playing in all 12 games. He also had two tackles for loss, an interception and recovered a fumble in 138 snaps. For his career, Patterson has 34 tackles, one sack, three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, an interception and a fumble recovery while playing in 25 games.
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