Leadership, talent, depth – Clemson’s defensive front-seven has it all, and coming with that is the expectation of improvement...and lots of it.
Clemson senior linebacker Spencer Shuey says it’s the best group he’s worked with yet.
“I definitely think so,” Shuey said. “The guys that were here before were phenomenal, but overall, I feel like we have a lot of talent this year as well. Speed and strength and guys that play smart and fast and we’re definitely excited about our front-seven.”
A year and a half into Brent Venables’ system, the players are taking more ownership of the defense.
“We’ve had a lot of guys step up, me included,” said Shuey. “Being able to take the role and run with it, hold other players accountable and be player-driven. Being able to coach ourselves instead of having him be there is huge. It’s definitely helped us this offseason.”
“We hold them to a high standard,” he said, “and they definitely have the ability to become big leaders for the defense and we’re definitely counting on them to step up and lead the others guys and make big plays themselves.”
Fighting for a starting spot with Tavaris Barnes at one end, Corey Crawford is another Tiger that can step into that role.
“He’s matured a lot,” said Shuey. “He’s definitely starting to realize the importance of his position and his role on the team. He’s gotten bigger and stronger and faster and he’s definitely taking it more seriously. I’m definitely expecting big things from him and am really excited about seeing him play.”
Going into Friday’s fall camp start, Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson currently own the two defensive tackle spots, with Vic Beasley on the other end. Competing behind Jarrett is junior DeShawn Williams and Carlos Watkins, and behind Watson – sophomores D.J. Reader and Roderick Byers.
At linebacker, Shuey (WLB), Stephone Anthony (MLB) and Quandon Christian (SLB) are the starters. Behind Shuey and Anthony, Oklahoma transfer Kellen Jones (sophomore) is getting work, along with junior Tony Steward and sophomore B.J. Goodson. Redshirt freshman T.J. Burrell is playing behind Christian.
Venables says the versatility of Jones, rated as high as a four-star out of high school, will help him get on the field this season.
“He’s learning how to be an every down player. That will be his next hurdle,” Venables said. “When we can do that, you’ll see him out there a bunch. There’s no question he can help us. He’s a guy that learned a couple positions. The guys with instincts can play a couple positions.
“The guys that are rep guys – it’s hard for them to play a couple positions. Kellen’s a guy that instinctually can play a couple positions. Create some depth for us. I love the energy he brings and he just needs to bring it in a disciplined way.”