What Happens Now?

With the news coming down late yesterday afternoon that Brandon Jamison and Kelvin Morris won't be eligible to play football this year, the Tigers' situation at linebacker appears to be anything but stable. What happens now?

Kelvin Morris and Brandon Jamison were two players from the 2002 recruiting class that were expected to come in and see significant playing time last season. Simply put, both players had incredible speed and a nose for the football.

And after a solid start to their Division I-A college football careers, it now appears that both players will have to sit out the 2003 season so that they may get their academics in order.

Losing Jamison and Morris this year means the Tigers will lose over 90 total tackles from a defense that has already lost linebackers Rodney Thomas and Rodney Feaster to graduation, and Eric Sampson for violating team rules.

David Dunham, is also another linebacker who played in all 13 games on special teams last season that is no longer on defense. Tommy Bowden announced in March that Dunham had been permanently moved to fullback.

While Jamison was used primarily in a back up role in 2002 and Morris started several games at the whip linebacker, both players were expected to challenge for a starting spot this season.

Morris, who is perhaps blessed with more athleticism for a man his size than anyone on the team, would have likely grabbed the starting nod at the "whip" linebacker position even after suffering a knee injury during spring practice.

But with the former Southwest Mississippi Junior College star now out of the equation, several players will now be able to compete for the starting spot, with sophomore Ronny Delusme being the front-runner.

While Delusme has show flashes of brilliance during the early parts of his Clemson career, he is also recovering from a torn ACL and missed all of spring practice this year recovering from the injury.

Jamison was another player that didn't practice with the team during the spring due to academics, so his loss may have been something that was more expected by the coaching staff, as he wasn't even listed on the two-deep depth chart in early March.

Never the less, the loss of both of these players hurts, and it hurts bad. It goes without saying that new linebackers' coach David Blackwell along with defensive coordinator John Lovett will have to do everything in their power to insure that the linebackers aren't a weakness for this team in 2003.

LeRoy Hill and John Leake will have to be depended on as the playmakers from the Tigers linebacking corps in 2003.
The good news is that the Tigers do return LeRoy Hill and John Leake. Both players are savvy veterans that worked extremely hard this offseason in the weight room, and both players are guys that can be depended on to make plays.

The Tigers will also have redshirt freshman Anthony Waters to add to the equation at one of the outside linebacker spots. Waters had an outstanding spring, and several Clemson coaches have privately said that he clearly has the most potential of any of the current linebackers on the team.

Fortunately, he's already bulked up to over 218 pounds and he continues to work hard off the field.

The wildcard continues to be former Tiger linebacker Eric Sampson.

Apparently, Sampson is doing everything in his power to get his grades in order and get back on the football field next fall. Officials from the athletic department have declined to comment on his situation, but Sampson seems extremely optimistic that he could return and sources seem to confirm that his return is imminent.

"I'm coming back," Sampson said after the spring game. "Coach Bowden has been following my progress and I just need to keep getting my academics in order and everything will take care of itself."

Sampson would likely regain the starting spot at the "whip" linebacker, which would then allow Delusme to provide support at both the whip and rover positions on the second team.

Roosevelt Nelson is another player that will likely see more time on the field as a result of the latest causalities. Nelson suprised the coaching staff this spring with his aggressiveness and his ability to quickly recogonize what the opposing offense is trying to accomplish on any particular play.

In terms of incoming freshman, the Tigers signed two linebackers in the 2003 class in Nick Watkins and Maurice Nelson. By all accounts, Nelson is the one player that looks to be physically ready to go as a true freshman.

After taking in the spring game in early April, the former Crestwood star said he fully expects to come in and contribute next season.

"Looking at the numbers back there, I could easily see myself coming in and playing next year," Nelson said. "I'm coming to Clemson to play football next year."

While you never want to depend on an incoming freshman to see significant playing time, Nelson's addition to the defense is going to be much needed, especially after the events of the last few days.

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