Heated Battle at SAM LB Headed to August

When spring football practice got underway, one of the more anticipated starting position battles was at Sam linebacker, where incumbent Tramaine Billie and sophomore-to-be Antonio Clay were looking to improve their stock in the eyes of the coaching staff.

By the time the spring game was over some four weeks later, not a lot was decided with the position, thus meaning when August rolls around, it will still be the most intriguing battles for playing time on defense.

"We've got two really good players and I think it's going to be a heck of a battle," said position coach Ron West. "I think it's going to be a deal where whoever plays the best that week in practice will be the starter."

Though they play the same position, they couldn't be more different.

Billie is on the small side, weighing just 205 pounds, but he makes up for it with his quickness. Clay, on the other hand, tips the scales at 225 and can fight off the blocks easier.

Last season, Clay played middle linebacker and he wanted to move to Sam in hopes of getting more playing time. And with his changing positions, it toughened Clemson's defense.

"What it did was it strengthened our linebacker position at that spot," West said. "Really, we're pretty strong there."

Even though Sam is a new position, Clay has picked on the aspects and techniques of it very well. So much so, that he even impressed his coach to a degree.

"By playing Mike linebacker last year, he was very familiar with what we were doing in schemes," West said. "All he had to do was learn some of the differences in the drops. But he did better than maybe expected, but he's still got to learn some things."

Because Clay was able to pick up the new position so quickly, and because he and Billie have been so good, there's been some preliminary discussions about moving Clay to Will, that way he and Billie can play at the same time.

But that is still far from happening, according to West.

"What we've done is we've trained Antonio at Sam, so he learned a lot of the coverages," West said. "The coverages for the Will and the Sam are very similar, and so if we needed to do that, we could do that.

"We could have moved him, but we decided not to. We wanted to finish the spring this way and then we'll go back and discuss it during the summer."

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