Clemson linebackers adjusting to Brent Venables' new scheme

Clemson's Quandon Christian intercepts a pass against Florida State.

Clemson's Quandon Christian intercepts a pass against Florida State.

Christian working on consistency

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— From a 4-3 to covering guys who run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash.

This has been Quandon Christian’s reality this spring and summer.

Christian is one of a number of Clemson linebackers who have adjusted to the presence of new defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Venables has taken former coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense – a true 4-3 – and turned it into a 4-2-5, with the “Sam” linebacker in Steele’s system serving as a hybrid linebacker/defensive back who can cover wide receivers.

“In coach Steele’s defense, I played inside the box,” Christian said. “At the “Will” (outside) position, I sometimes played a 4-3, but also played “Sam” on tight ends. Now I’m playing a nickel, hybrid linebacker. It’s a whole lot different. I’m holding wide receivers who run 4.3s.”

He is part of a group of linebackers who are expected to improve from 2011’s inconsistent effort.

Christian and fellow 2011 starters Corico Wright and Jonathan “Tig” Willard all return, but all have made adjustments in Venables’ system.

Venables immediately installed sophomore Stephone Anthony as his starting middle linebacker, moving Wright, who spent two years in the middle, outside to compete with Willard and sophomore Tony Steward.

Christian is playing ahead of freshman Travis Blanks, who arrived as a defensive back and will likely play plenty of nickelback this fall.

Willard thinks the linebacking corps will benefit from the changes, taking a step forward under Venables’ watch.

“There’s a lot of factors,” he said. “Linebackers are growing up, getting older. We’re learning formations and being able to recognize formations and react faster. We’re not babies anymore.”

Of the three returnees, Christian has faced the most challenging road. He has started 14 of 27 games over two seasons, but struggled at times last fall, making 36 tackles, 1.5 for loss, in 411 snaps.

He focused offseason improvement around the film room, studying opposing offenses.

“I definitely could have done more,” he said of 2011. “Everyone could have done more. I think a real weakness was watching extra film. I didn’t watch enough film to make me better, to know what the other offense was doing.”

That knowledge, he said, will translate onto the field this fall.

“Making plays comes with knowing what you’re doing,” he said. “If you know what you’re doing you make more plays and you’re in position to make plays. I’m playing faster. I’ve definitely been faster since spring, actually knowing what I’m doing now.”

He has also gained 10 pounds – going from 218 to 228 – and feels he can cover wide receivers and tight ends adeptly.

“I like to cover,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. I can run with them.”

Across from him, Willard and Wright have been battling for playing time at “Will.” The two combined for 155 tackles a year ago, with Willard enjoying a breakthrough season with 75.

“It’s been really great,” Willard said of the competition. “For me and him, we’ve both got to get better every day. We’re battling, two great linebackers battling against each other. Shoot, you can’t go down, you can only go up.”

Just one more adjustment for a linebacker group which has made plenty of them this summer.

“It’s been more knowledge, learning where my defensive line is, how I’m supposed to fit different formations and gaps,” Willard said. “Knowing pass recognition and what the defensive backs are doing behind me. From the spring to now, it’s been really great. I’ve been learning every day.”

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