Grading the Linebackers

In this fourth installment of an eight-part series, CUTigers takes an in-depth position-by-position look at what we thought before the season and what's been learned since.

The post-spring practice depth chart was taken with a grain of salt because defensive coordinator Kevin Steele doesn't put too much stock in preseason depth charts.

"I was thinking to myself, if we had to make a depth chart today and what it would be, because they print all of those summer magazines…whatever gets printed, it isn't worth the ink they put on the paper to print it," he said earlier this year.

The post-spring starting three was Corico Hawkins (middle), Quandon Christian (strong) and Jonathan Willard or Brandon Maye (weak).

But there was plenty to question when looking at the group. A work in progress, if you will.

Of the four listed on first-team in the preseason depth chart, only one (Maye) had a full season as a starter under his belt.

In the Clemson's defense loaded with talent feature in this season's preview magazine, incoming freshman Justin Parker was figured to be a key component of the group.

Our Bold Predictions feature projected Christian as the Redshirt Freshman of the Year and Hawkins as the Most Improved Defensive Player.

It was indeed a work in progress. But there's plenty of adversity, dating back to last summer.

It all started last July when Stanley Hunter was forced to call an end to his football career because of seizures connected with epilepsy. Later in December, 2010 commit Jake Nicolopulos suffered a stroke, and was forced to walk away from the game.

Jake Nicolopulos will not play football at Clemson, but his scholarship will be honored by the Tiger coaching staff.
The bad luck continued on into the season with Scotty Cooper, who called it a career with a neck injury.

Then, there were the in-season injuries to Maye and Willard, both of whom missed time this year.

Plus, Daniel Andrews was sidelined with a season-ending injury against Georgia Tech.

Backup middle linebacker Spencer Shuey even missed time.

Despite the setbacks, the Clemson linebackers managed to be a serviceable group, playing a big part in the Tigers' run defense that ranks 30th in the nation.

Hawkins is fifth on the team with 61 tackles, third in sacks (three) and tied for second in tackles for loss (nine). His 692 snaps are third-most on the team. He finished a distant second (behind Da'Quan Bowers) as Most Improved Defensive Player.

Christian's snaps were limited early on in the season because of matchups against teams that primarily use four and five wide receivers. As the season progressed, he improved. The redshirt freshman has 24 tackles and a 1½ tackles for loss, living up to the CUTigers billing as Redshirt Freshman of the Year.

Injuries have forced Maye out of four games this season. The human tackling machine during his Clemson career has 38 in just 312 snaps.

Willard, who's started two games this season, has 24 tackles in 153 snaps.

Parker's played only 56 snaps, most of which have come in mop up time during big Clemson wins.

Because the depth of numbers lacked, Parker's redshirt was burned. Currently listed as the backup on the strong-side, Parker started the season in the middle.

The group's been pretty average this season. Not bad, but far from spectacular. Teams have had some success passing to running backs and tight ends, but nothing has been too major.

Grade: C

Everybody's back from this season. As much of a positive as that is, upgrades are needed right now.

And Clemson is in the running for several highly touted prospects. five-stars Travis Hughes, Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward all have Clemson in their final groups. Four-star Lateek Townsend and three-star Cedrick Cooper are also high on the Tigers.

Steele has already gotten a commitment from B.J. Goodson, a middle linebacker from Lamar. Colton Walls, who's listed as a linebacker on could move to the offensive side of the ball to play fullback.

Ideally, Clemson would like to pickup two more linebackers in the 2011 haul. Hughes is being recruited to play on the outside. Anthony and Steward would play in the middle. Top Stories