Depth Chart, In-Depth: linebackers

Shorthanded no more, Brent Venables has the indredients available for a dominant unit

Clemson Tigers linebacker Jonathan Willard (46) tackles Boston College Eagles running back Rolandan Finch (28) in the first quarter.

Clemson Tigers linebacker Jonathan Willard (46) tackles Boston College Eagles running back Rolandan Finch (28) in the first quarter.

Depth Chart, In-Depth: Linebackers

First Up: Sophomore Stephone Anthony (6-3, 235, Polkton, N.C.) returns to the middle linebacker spot that won at the end of last season. In 272 snaps last season Anthony made 32 tackles and caused two fumbles - high on the team. Out of Anson High, he was ranked as the nation's No. 1 outside linebacker by ESPN and 247Sports.

Seniors Jonathan Willard (6-2, 220, Loris, S.C.) and Corico Hawkins (5-11, 230, Milledgeville, Ga.) are listed as co-starters at the weakside ('will') position. One of the Tigers' most consistent performers last season, Willard bounced back from an injury-plagued sophomore year made 75 tackles in 635 snaps last fall.

Hawkins is a three year regular and two-year starter, who manned the middle linebacker spot before being bumped from the starting lineup late last season. He's a veteran of more than 1,500 snaps, and has 170 tackles and 17 tackles for loss in his career.

Junior Quandon Christian (6-2, 220, Lake View, S.C.) is back after serving as the Tigers' primary starter at strongside ('sam') linebacker last season. He started seven games, and will likely again split playing time with the designated 'nickel back' - freshman Travis Blanks - who is listed second at a position designated SLB/NB on the post-spring depth chart.

Next In Line: Junior Specer Shuey (6-3, 250, Charlotte, N.C.) emerged from spring practice as Anthony's back-up in the middle. Shuey has been one of the Tigers' most consistent special teams performances in his two seasons on the field, and gives the Tigers a powerful, run-stopping option in the middle.

Junior Justin Parker (6-1, 225, Port Royal, S.C.) is listed third behind Willard and Hawkins at 'will,' while sophomore Lateek Townsend (6-2, 215, Bennettsville, S.C.) - a standout on special teams last season - is Christian's backup at 'sam.'

In The Pipeline: Tony Steward (6-1, 245, sophomore, Hastings, Fla.) was working his way into a more prominent on-field role last fall before being sidelined with his second ACL injury in two years. He was a first-team All-American and winner of the Dick Butkus Award as a high school senior, and was ranked as the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker by ESPN and No. 1 outside linebacker by Rivals.

Also looking to work his way into the mix this season is redshirt freshman B.J. Goodson (6-1, 235, Lamar, S.C.), as well as incoming freshman T.J. Burrell (5-11, 205, Goose Creek, S.C.).

Practicing with the Tigers this fall, but sitting out the 2012 season as a transfer is Kellen Jones (6-1, 215, Houston, Texas), who played in 12 games for Brent Venables last season at Oklahoma, and out of high school was ranked as the nation's No. 12 middle linebacker by Scout.

Walk-on Contributor: Zach Fulmer (6-0, 225, junior, Saluda, S.C.)

More Help On The Way: The Tigers have commitments from three linebackers for their class of 2013: Dorian O'Daniel of Onley, Md.; Ben Boulware of T.L. Hanna High in Anderson, S.C.; and D.J. Greenlee of Daniel High in Central, S.C.

Overall Outlook: Kevin Steele spent his three seasons as Clemson's defensive coordinator shorthanded at his linebacker positions. The Tigers have been working hard on the recruiting front, and new coordinator Brent Venables now has a wealth talent, experience and depth at his disposal. Venables will build his linebacking corps around sophomore Anthony, who shared No. 1 billing in the class of 2011 with Steward. Steward is looking for a jump start this preseason after completing his rehab from ACL surgery, and Venables will complement his two young stars with veterans like Willard, Hawkins, Christian and Shuey, as well as newcomers in Townsend, Goodson and Burrell. This group will have to earn its 'Linebacker U' billing, but it looks like the Tigers have the material to do just that.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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