Kellen Jones, Jordan Leggett impress; more knee trouble for Tony Steward

Kickoff returns, coverage getting extra attention; Daniel Rodriguez working as holder for placekicks

Clemson's Kellen Jones and Clemson's Tony Steward during the first day of spring practice in Clemson.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Kellen Jones and Clemson's Tony Steward during the first day of spring practice in Clemson.

Kellen Jones may end up being a hard man to keep off the field next fall.

The sophomore linebacker, who played as a freshman for Brent Venables at Oklahoma and transferred to Clemson after his coach took the coordinator's job with the Tigers, had an eye-catching performance in Clemson's first scrimmage on Wednesday.

“He is a good football player,” Swinney said. “He's explosive and he plays with a violent edge to him and has good instincts for the ball."

Swinney said Jones, who had a sack on Wednesday, is playing at both the 'will' and 'mike' positions.

"All of the linebackers have responded - we have a really good group - but Kellen just shows up, somehow," said Swinney. "He has a little bit of Tig Willard in him in that he can slither through some cracks you don’t think he can get through.

"He plays like somebody just stole his last $100 bill, and that's a good thing."

More Knee Trouble For Steward: Rising junior linebacker Tony Steward missed the Tigers' scrimmage on Wednesday with a hyperextended knee that he suffered in practice on Tuesday.

Dabo Swinney said the injury is not considered to be serious, and that Steward could be back on the practice field on Friday, or, if not, when the team resumes practice next week.

Steward has suffered torn ACLs on both knees during the past three years.

Another Good Review For Leggett: On Tuesday, Chad Morris singled out first-semester freshman tight end Jordan Leggett for his impressive play during the first half of spring drills. Swinney echoed those comments on Wednesday.

“Leggett is one guy that has caught my eye,” said Swinney said. “Not that I didn’t expect him to be a good player, but he has some poise to him for a high school senior. He's really big - bigger than he was when we recruited him, and he made a couple of nice catches today. He's been really consistent. He doesn't look like a guy who just got here."

Rebuilding The Kicking Game: The loss of Spencer Benton, the Tigers' kicking game master of multi-tasking over the past three seasons, has required extra attention to the special teams.

Swinney said that both Chandler Catanzaro's kicking and Bradley Pinion's punting were solid during the first scrimmage. Pinion is also working as the Tigers' backup placekicker.

With Benton gone, the Tigers are looking at several options for a holder, including Pinion, walk-on wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez, and walk-on kicker Corbin Jenkins.

The loss of Benton has also necessitated additional work on kickoff coverage. Benton set a school record for kick-coverage tackles by a kicker.

“We were inconsistent in our kickoff coverage last year and it hurt us,” Swinney said.

The Tigers' kick return game is also getting extra work.

“We weren’t the type of return team that we need to be - in fact, I think it was the first time since I’ve been coach that we didn’t take one to the house," Swinney said. "We need to improve in that area."

Noteworthy: Swinney said that Gifford Timothy hasn't gotten as much credit as he deserves for his consistent performance at right tackle. Timothy has been limited this spring by the knee injury he suffered against LSU, but Swinney said he'll be OK.

- Swinney said he's been pleased with the development of former tight end Eric Mac Lain as an offensive tackle. Mac Lain has been working at the left tackle spot behind Isaiah Battle. "The thing you’ve got to remember about this guy is that he got moved to the offensive line in the middle of the season," Swinney said. "He had never sat in a meeting with them because he was a tight end. His whole world changed. His first opportunity to be trained as an offensive lineman was in bowl practice when he really got a lot of work. He’s a really good work in progress.”

- Not so impressive has been backup right guard Spencer Region. "He’s just stagnant,” Swinney said. “He has plenty of ability - it’s just a matter of him being fully committed. That’s just the bottom line. He’s a good kid with a lot of ability, but he just has not quite made the full commitment to be a consistent player."

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