With a deep backfield and multiple starters back on the offensive line, Georgia’s key to consistent success on offense starts with its running game. That’s no secret to Clemson’s defense, including linebacker Trenton Simpson.
“We have to stop the run,” Simpson said. “We’ve just got to get in there and be ready to tackle. That will be the key for us.”
But as the projected starter at the Sam linebacker position, Simpson knows he may get matched up against a tight end, slot receiver or even a running back in pass coverage at times. And not just against the Bulldogs.
That will be the first test for Clemson’s defense this fall, though, when the teams meet Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, but Simpson said his focus this offseason has been honing his coverage skills. For Simpson, that has consisted primarily of working on his footwork.
As one of the Tigers’ more versatile linebackers, Simpson repped at all three linebacker spots during fall camp in order to be ready anywhere depending on injuries or certain packages. But Simpson said he’s also used some of his own time to get in some work with the Tigers’ safeties before and after practice.
“Just trying to make sure I get my footwork down and getting used to backpedaling and opening up and running,” Simpson said. That was something I talked to with my teammates and something I wanted to do because I know I’ll have to go out there and perform at that position or some formations. That’s something I wanted to improve on myself.”
That’s because Simpson is set to take on a much larger role in the Tigers’ defense after getting three starts as a true freshman last season. Simpson said he also wanted to add some weight to his 6-foot-3 frame — he’s up to 225 pounds — but being able to give himself the best chance to hold up when he’s isolated on a skill position player in coverage has been the emphasis.
Fellow sophomore Malcolm Greene could also play the nickel spot, but Simpson said he expects to be a three-down linebacker that doesn’t have to come off the field in passing situations. There could be times when Simpson and Greene are on the field at the same time depending on what the opposing offense is doing.
Having a full year in the program also has Simpson in a place where he’s more comfortable with the intricacies of the Tigers’ defense, he said.
“I’m prepared to do any position, just to go out there and perform at a high level,” Simpson said. “Anything they throw at me, I’ll be ready to go out there and make it happen.”
He feels good about where he is as a tackler. Simpson had 32 stops to go along with four sacks a season ago. Now that he’s about to be a full-time starter, becoming a more complete linebacker is ultimately the goal.
“I’ve been working hard and always tried to be ready whenever my name was called,” Simpson said. “So now that I’ve got the shot, I want to make the best out of it.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!