Clemson Football: Previewing the linebackers

It should be noted that the Clemson football defense will be a strong factor in the success of the team in 2014. Due to the abundance of veteran players that are returning to start on the defensive line in combination with fresh talent that has had the time to train under the seasoned athletes, Clemson listed a four-way tie for the starting strongside linebacker/nickleback position on the depth chart. This group of linebackers is not only talented on their own, but they have the added benefit of playing behind one of the top-ranked defensive line units in the country. This shows just how well prepared Clemson’s defense is for the fall.

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Stephone Anthony (6-foot-2, 245-pounds) Sr.

Anthony was a highly touted recruit embellished with awards coming into Clemson. He was ranked by ESPN and 247Sports as the nation’s #1 outside linebacker and the #1 player in North Carolina. While in high school, he was named a USA Today First-Team All-American and played in the Shrine Bowl and the Under Armour All-American game.

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Stephone Anthony will continue to be a valuable asset to Clemson’s defense.

In Clemson’s 2011 season, Anthony started in three games and played in both the Orange Bowl and the ACC championship game. He started 7 games of the 2012 season and was named an honorable mention sophomore All-American by collegefootballnews.com. By 2013, Anthony was named second-team All-ACC by Phil Steele and led the team in number of tackles. He started in all 13 games of the season and helped win the Orange Bowl with an interception on Ohio State’s final drive.

To no one’s surprise, Anthony has been listed to start again at middle linebacker for the 2014 season. Out of all the linebackers, Anthony is the most seasoned and experienced. To date, he has started in 23 games and has completed 240 tackles, 24 of which were tackles for loss. He has completed seven sacks, two interceptions, and three caused and one recovered fumble. Anthony is also this year’s only Clemson linebacker to be named to Athlon’s All-ACC defensive 1st team. He is the largest of all the linebacker prospects and will continue to be a great defensive leader in the 2014 season.

Tony Steward (6-foot-1, 230-pounds) Sr.

Steward came to Clemson as the nations #1 outside linebacker by Rivals.com and as a USA Today First-Team All-American. He will finally get the playing time he deserves this season as the starting weakside linebacker. Its hard to get much playing time as the backup to powerhouse Spencer Shuey, especially since Steward was also suffering from a torn ACL which ended his 2011 season early. As he recovered, he spent most of the next season playing on special teams. He totaled 36 tackles in 167 snaps of the 2013 season. Although his injury prevented him from gaining the playing experience he should have by now, he is a talented athlete who should have no problem stepping up to the starting position.

Ben Boulware (5-foot-11, 230-pounds) So.

Boulware will provide excellent depth to the Clemson 2014 defense by being the primary backup to Steward. ESPN ranked him as the nation’s #3 inside linebacker and the best player in the state of South Carolina. He was his team’s captain in the Under Armour All-American game and was named the defensive MVP of the winning team in the Shrine Bowl. He played in the 2013 Clemson season as a true freshman and totaled 25 tackles and an interception over 11 games. Although he did not get much playing time, at the time, he was a freshman playing under the seasoned Stephone Anthony. He spent the majority of his time playing on the special teams, but has since been moved to help add more coverage at weakside linebacker.

T.J. Burrell (5-foot-11, 215-pounds) So.

Burrell is one of the two players listed to start at strongside linebacker. He came into Clemson ranked as the 57th outside linebacker in the nation by ESPN, but he redshirted his freshman year and was a primary backup to Quandon Christian in the 2013 season. Burrell only played for 80 snaps of the 2013 season, but completed 11 tackles, one of which was in the season opener against Georgia.

Dorian O’Daniel (6-foot-2, 210-pounds) RFr.

Rivals ranked O’Daniel as the #40 player in the nation and the #6 outside linebacker coming out of high school. His senior year, he totaled 1,307 yards in 190 carries, which led him to score 18 touchdowns in 10 games. He red-shirted his freshman year at Clemson and is now listed as a tied starter at strongside linebacker alongside Burrell. Although Burrell has more on-field experience than O’Daniel, Dorian has his teammate beat with height and speed. O’Daniel ran a 4.55 forty-yard dash which tops Burrell’s 4.7 time, and O’Daniel has three inches of height advantage in his favor.

Kellen Jones (6-foot-1, 225-pounds) RJr.

Jones was not originally a Tiger; in fact, he first signed with Michigan and later ended up as an Oklahoma Sooner where he played under the current Clemson defensive coordinator, Brent Venables. Jones followed Venables to Clemson in 2012 and was forced by NCAA transfer rules to red-shirt. He made good use of his time during that redshirt year by learning how to play all three linebacker positions. This makes Jones one of Clemson’s most versatile linebackers, which will make him a crucial part of the depth. Jones was off to a good start at Clemson in the 2013 season, totaling 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack before a torn ACL cut his season short in September. With having much time to recover and recuperate after his injury, Jones may get a chance to show Clemson why he was Scout.com’s #12 middle linebacker and Rivals’ #29 inside linebacker.