Strength in numbers

Entering his fifth season as the head man at Clemson, Dabo Swinney can finally list linebacker as a position of strength.

It's been a while since any Clemson head coach could honestly say that about his team before the start of spring practice.

"I think we finally have created the depth and the class division that we need to have to be special at the linebacker position again," Swinney said. "We've got the experience to go with it. It's a really good group and a strength of our team."

Spencer Shuey, who took over the starting job at MIKE midway through last season, finished second on the team with 85 tackles in 2012. Stephone Anthony, the starter in the middle through the first half of the year, was fourth with 75 tackles.

They're both back. So is Tony Steward, a former four-star prospect who's had to overcome a pair of knee injuries during his first two years on campus.

"I think you'll start off seeing a combination of Shuey and Stephone and Tony working that MIKE and WILL position, then Quandon [Christian] out there at the SAM. We'll go from there," Swinney said.

Shuey and Christian are the group's only seniors.

"Those two guys have played a lot of ball, been in a lot of big games," Swinney said. "I think the emergence of Shuey last year, his commitment in the offseason and really getting himself in position. He lost some weight. He, I thought, was as impactful a player as anybody on our team last year.

"You throw in Stephone and Tony Steward [and] I think we've got an incredible corps of linebackers, a veteran group. Justin Parker is coming off a redshirt. Those guys will kind of set the table, so to speak."

And there's talented depth behind that group.

"Kellen Jones, B.J. Goodson, T.J. Burrell, he's here and coming off a redshirt. He's a young prospect that we want to learn a little bit more about, and we've got a couple of good ones coming in the fall," Swinney said.

Jones, an Oklahoma transfer, fired up the message boards and talk radio last fall when Brent Venables likened him to TNT.

"He's a physical, disruptive guy when he shows up," Venables said last August. "He's like a stick of dynamite going off. Bodies are flying everywhere."

Swinney tempered the excitement when he was asked about Jones on Tuesday morning.

"I don't know much about Kellen Jones yet, other than he's a tough kid, likes to play. He's a promising young talent," Swinney said. "Don't know much about him, other than that, because he hasn't really been in our system yet, other than the little I saw in fall camp. I saw him on scout team all year.

"The one thing I'll say about him over there, he was a pain in the rear for our offensive coaches and offensive players. He's full speed all the time.

"That's a good thing right there when you're talking about the linebacker position."

It is indeed. Top Stories