Ben Boulware (WILL)
Boulware has emerged as one of the leaders not only of the defense but the entire team. The 5’11, 240-pound junior only has two starts in his career, and he had a sack in one of them (versus Louisville) and a pick-six in the other (bowl game versus Oklahoma). He also had a fumble recovery against South Carolina last season. In only 400 snaps played, Boulware has 2 interceptions, a sack, 6.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. He is a high-motor player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and he will provide leadership and an injection of energy for the defense this season.
B.J. Goodson (MIKE)
6’1, 250-pound B.J. Goodson started half of the games last season for the #1 defense in the nation, including the bowl game against Oklahoma. The redshirt senior had 3 fumble recoveries, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack in 2014. His 3 fumble recoveries last season tied him for 10th in the nation in that category. Goodson has been at Clemson since the arrival of Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. He knows the defense inside and out, which will serve him well as the signal-caller in the middle. He has always led by example, but he intends to be more vocal this season now that Stephone Anthony is in the NFL.
Travis Blanks (SAM/nickel back)
Blanks started most of his freshman season in 2012 and was a freshman All-American. He started most of the 2013 season as well, before suffering a torn ACL and missed the 2014 season. The 6’1, 210-pound redshirt junior from Tallahassee has had a good camp and looks to be back to his old form. Now that projected starter Korrin Wiggins will miss the season with a torn ACL, there will be that much more pressure on Blanks to perform. With his considerable experience, the position should be in good hands.
Kendall Joseph (MIKE)
Redshirt freshman Kendall Joseph was ranked as the #1 inside linebacker in the nation by ESPN coming out of high school. Coach Swinney said that the 6-foot, 230-pounder was so good as a true freshman that they were very close to playing him last season, despite having the #1 defense in the land. He is reputedly a very smart and focused football player, and he will be needed in the middle if Clemson is going to come close to the success they enjoyed on defense last season. Joseph has had a rough start to preseason camp. He injured the AC joint in his shoulder within the first couple days and has just had arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus. He is expected back at practice by the end of the week.
Dorian O’Daniel (SAM/nickel back)
O’Daniel only played 87 snaps at LB last season, but he had 31 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against Georgia Tech. The 6-1, 215-pound redshirt sophomore was ranked by Scout.com as the #11 outside linebacker in the nation coming out of high school. O’Daniel has been a standout on special teams but will see considerable time at linebacker this season—especially since the season-ending injury suffered by Korrin Wiggins.
TJ Burrell (SAM/nickel back)
6’0 , 215-pound TJ Burrell has had limited playing time thus far but figures to be in the mix more prominently due to Wiggins’s injury. Coach Swinney has mentioned that he has had a good camp so far and will provide good support at the SAM/nickel position. The redshirt junior was ranked as the #58 outside linebacker in the nation by Scout.com coming out of high school.
Jalen Williams (WILL)
True freshman Jalen Williams has been one of the pleasant surprises of preseason camp. The 5’9, 225-pounder has been a favorite of Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables, and with redshirt freshman Korie Rogers retiring from football, Williams should see plenty of action this season. Although he’s a freshman, Williams enrolled in January, so he had the entire spring and summer to learn the defense.
Chad Smith (WILL)
6’4, 235-pound true freshman Chad Smith was ranked by ESPN as the #19 LB in high school last year. The coaching staff has not determined yet whether he will redshirt or see playing time this season, but with the early losses of linebackers Korrin Wiggins and Korie Rogers, there is a good chance Smith will play as a freshman.
The Tigers are dangerously thin at the linebacker position—more so than any other unit—after losing Wiggins and Rogers, and Joseph has already been injured in preseason camp. If this defense is going to come close to its production last season, it must avoid any more injuries to the linebackers. This will be a position of critical importance to Clemson’s success this season.