Where do you start in building a dominant linebacking corps?
Find a 6-2, 246-pound pound five-star recruit with two years of college experience, plug him into the middle 'Mike' position, and then build around him.
During Clemson's off-season self-evaluations, defensive coordinator Brent Venables found just the man he was looking for - a player who during the final third of the 2012 season spent more time on the sideline than on the field.
Meet Stephone Anthony - a man with a new role and a new jersey numbers (No. 42).
Coming out of the 2012 season, in which Spencer Shuey replaced Anthony as the Tigers' middle linebacker after the Georgia Tech game, there figured to be some shuffling ahead of Clemson's linebacker personnel.
With time to evaluate and consider, Venables decided to make Shuey the unit's moving part, reinstalling Anthony in the middle and having Shuey split time between the 'Will,' position, which he'll share with Tony Steward, and the 'Mike' spot.
"He's is the prototypical middle linebacker," said Venables of Anthony, who emerged as a starter midway through his freshman season in 2011. “He's really comfortable. He's just now getting comfortable at Mike. I would hate to put him in a position where he now has to start over.
"He's up to 246 pounds...and is an athletic middle linebacker. I think that is a good position for him."
With Anthony anchoring the middle, backed by Shuey, Justin Parker and B.J. Goodson, Venables has multiple options to fill in the outside positions in Shuey, Steward, Quandon Christian, Kellen Jones, and T.J. Burrell. More help will arrive this summer in signees Ben Boulware and D.J. Greenlee, who have already attended spring practice to observe, and Dorian O'Daniel.
“I really like this group of guys," said Venables. "We have a lot of chemistry and experience and intelligence with the group. We have guys that can run and hit and like to compete. We're just moving some guys around and trying to experiment to see if we can add additional depth.”
Jones - who during his sit-out year after transferring from Oklahoma made a scout team impression as "a pain in the rear" for the Tigers' offensive coaches and players, according to Dabo Swinney - is benefitting from previous experience in Venables' system.
“He's very comfortable with the system," Venables said. "He's very disruptive and very instinctive and plays super fast. He amps things up and is a very hungry and emotional guy. He's at 'Will' right now as we try to get that position solidified. Right now we're just trying to get a solid two at 'Will,' and he's is a part of that.”