Clemson loses its leader in solo tackles ( Spencer Shuey, 56) and a three-year starter (Quandon Christian) from the linebacker corps this season, leaving open spots on either side of stalwart MIKE Stephone Anthony.
Three of the four vying for the playing time were rated four-star or higher – senior former five-star Tony Steward leading the way at Shuey’s old position.
Per Clemson’s final ’13 stats, Anthony averaged the most snaps per tackle (6.1) among starting peers, but off the bench, rising sophomore Ben Boulware had one every 4.1. Steward averaged a solid 5.8 on the field almost 100 more snaps than the T.L. Hanna product (167 to 73).
In a spot shared with the nickel position, redshirt freshman Dorian O’Daniel and sophomore T.J. Burrell will compete for playing time on the strongside. Burrell played 80 snaps last season, totaling six tackles (5 on special teams as well).
In the middle, Anthony was as good as any in the nation – his 15 tackles for loss in the top-10 among ’13 returners. He led Clemson in tackles seven of 13 games last year.
A look at the returning ACC picture…
ACC Leaders (linebacker)
Tackles Per Game
1) David Helton (Duke) – 9.5
2) Denzel Perryman (Miami) – 8.3
3) Kelby Brown (Duke) – 8.1
4) Henry Coley (Virginia) – 7.5
5) Daquan Romero (Virginia) – 7.4
Tackles For Loss
1) Stephone Anthony (Clemson) – 15
2) Norkeithus Otis (UNC – 14
3) Cameron Lynch (Syracuse) – 12
4) Kelby Brown (Duke) – 11
5) James Burgess (Louisville) – 9
Projecting the ACC Linebackers
(If you haven’t been around with us before, the rankings are based on production/field impact – not a straight measure of their abilities like a NFL draft board. We’re looking at not only the player’s ability, but the surrounding cast that can help him get the W's and numbers.)
1) Florida State
Outlook: The ‘Noles just stockpile talent defensively – linebacker no exception, but they do lose a pair of playmakers in Telvin Smith and Christian Jones. In addition to some experience in Terrance Smith (59 tackles), former Clemson target Reggie Northrup (46) and Ukeme Eligwe (28) – former five-star Matthew Thomas figures to be in the mix after a shoulder injury sidelined him in 2013.
Outlook: In terms of yards given up, Duke wasn’t any good against the pass (13th in the ACC) or run (14th) last season, but in a 4-2-5 scheme, the Blue Devil linebackers were all over the field. David Helton and Kelby Brown were two of the top-three in not just tackles, but also tackles per game – and Duke returns all of the contributors who played behind them.
Outlook: The production from Anthony is a given – the question is if he can be even more disruptive in the backfield with another veteran d-line in front of him. Steward or Boulware will share the load at a key spot in Brent Venables’ defense on one side of Anthony, making or breaking Clemson’s ability to contain at the second level.
Outlook: Virginia has experience (two in the top-15 returners in tackles – Daquan Romero, 89; Henry Coley, 90) and looks pair that with a move up defensively, mediocre (66th in total ‘D’) to bad (99th in scoring ‘D’) last season.
Outlook: Louisville joined Clemson in the top-10 nationally in tackles for loss last season, but most came in the d-line – junior linebacker James Burgess the best back (9). The Cards face replacing their top tackler (Preston Brown, 98), but recruited pretty well in the previous regime defensively.
6) North Carolina
Outlook: Top tackler Travis Hughes returns (76), along with Otis and his 14 TFL in a defense led by a pair of former Clemson assistants (Vic Koenning and Ron West). UNC has recruited well, but hasn’t had a top-25 defense since 2009 (6th).
Outlook: The ‘Cuse has a pair of starters returning in seniors Cameron Lynch (69 tackles) and Dyshawn Davis (48). Davis is second only to Vic Beasley nationally in active career TFL (27).
Outlook: Denzel Perryman is one of three returning ACCers who had triple-digit tackles (108) – second in tackles per game (8.3). The ‘Canes lose some production, but return another primary starter (Thurston Armbrister, 33 tackles) and have a pair of former four-stars competing on the other side (Raphael Kirby and Jermaine Grace).
9) Boston College
Outlook: In terms of production, BC has been linebacker 'U' of late, but they lose two 100-plus tacklers. The cupboard isn't bare though, with rising junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles) and senior Josh Keyes (30 tackles/3.5 sacks) returning.
Outlook: Some motivation tactics gone wrong led to the departure of senior Todd Thomas (72 tackles/6 TFL), but another senior, Anthony Gonzalez, anchors a defense in transition after all-everything DT Aaron Donald moved on to the NFL.
11) Virginia Tech
Outlook: The Hokies lose 174 tackles between the exits of Jack Tyler (100) and Tariq Edwards (74). Fifth-year senior Chase Williams is taking over the middle, playing mostly special teams to this point.
12) Wake Forest
Outlook: On the short end of an anemic offense, Wake Forest was pretty good defensively last season – they return Brandon Chubb, who averaged 6.8 tackles per game.
13) Georgia Tech
Outlook: It’s a new season, so, of course, Georgia Tech has new a defensive scheme, switching to 4-2-5 after flirtations with the 4-3 (2013) and 3-4 (2010-12). Losing a pair of starters, redshirt senior Quayshawn Nealy (66 tackles) leads a group of unknowns in the third look in three seasons.
14) N.C. State
Outlook: Also moving to a 4-2-5, the Wolfpack lose a pair of starters here after giving up 30.2 points a game last season (33.9 in ACC play) on their way to an 0-8 ACC debut for Dave Doeren.