Post spring insider: weakside LB

CLEMSON - There is a popular misconception out there that Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele would like to clear up.

Despite what fans might think, coaches have no control of the starting lineup.

"This is the truth about a starting lineup. We don't control a starting lineup - the players control the starting lineup," he said. "That's who controls who starts. That's who controls who plays. If you play the best, you play."

Steele says it is obvious to anyone with a trained eye to see why certain players are on the field and others are not.

"My Mom is a coach's wife. She has three sons that were coaches and two of us still are," he said. "She has a brother that's a coach. But it doesn't take her long to look out there and see a (DeAndre) McDaniel and say that guy is the best guy out there in the backend. That's not hard.

"Da'Quan Bowers, that one isn't real hard either. When you start getting players like that, the problem you get with really talented groups is that this guy behind him is really the future there and is he going to get playing time and does he need to learn two things so he can get multiple playing time?"

One of those guys is bandit end Kevin Alexander. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior will more than likely be in a fall camp battle with fellow senior Ricky Sapp for the starting job. But the defensive staff is contemplating moving Alexander to linebacker to insure that he has more than one way to get on the field next fall.

"One thing you don't want to do as a coach is have a real good player standing next to you on the sideline," Steele said.

Steele likes Alexander because he has the potential to play all three linebacker positions.

"You have to factor this in," Steele said. "Have you played the game your entire career looking at half the field or outside in so everything is in the triangle or is everything in the funnel? Playing in the funnel, where you have to have peripheral vision and see the (whole) field and have instincts is foreign to some. "A lot of guys can't go from playing the (triangle) vision angle to the (funnel) vision angle. He can. He naturally has those instincts and has done it."

Alexander has done it. He played linebacker in high school at Union County High School in Florida, where he recorded 19 career sacks. But Steele said he isn't putting any percentage on the chances Alexander makes the move. Right now it is still just an idea.

Kavell Conner (6-foot-1, 225 pounds, redshirt senior, Richmond, Va.)
About: Led the team and was tied for 10th in the ACC in tackles per game with 125. He recorded 11 against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. He recorded 18 tackles against Alabama in last year's season-opener, tying Jeff Davis's school-record for tackles in the opening game (vs. Rice, 1980). He has played in 39 straight games, including the last 14 as a starter.

The positives: Conner has natural instincts and is a strong player. He is kind of what you are looking for in a lot of ways because he has the ability to play in space and sort things out with depth vision. But he also can play in the box, look in the funnel and feel things out. You can tell he has played a lot of football and you can tell that he is a tough, physical minded hardnosed guy.

The negatives: Not many negative things to say. Plays hard and is always going fast. Probably needs to become more vocal and bring more of a football-nastiness to the field.

Jonathan Willard (6-foot-1, 215 pounds, redshirt freshman, Loris, S.C.)
About: He was rated as the No. 34 weakside linebacker in the nation by He only played half of his senior season in high school due to a knee injury. He was an all-region selection as a senior and played in the North-South game.

The positives: Willard has a lot of talent, but he is typical of what a freshman linebacker is. He's got the instincts, the power, the explosion and the change of direction.

The negatives: He just needs to see the field. Sometimes he tries to think too much and he ends up missing a play because he is worried too much about what he is supposed to do during certain calls instead of just trusting himself and making plays.

Tarik Rollins (6-foot-2, 210 pounds, redshirt freshman, Hollywood, Fla.)
About: Missed most of his senior season of high school with a knee injury. He recorded 83 tackles, seven sacks and six interceptions as a junior.

The positives: He is another linebacker that has good instincts and has good power.

The negatives: He needs to get a little bit stronger and like Willard needs to trust what he has learned on the field and in the classroom and go make plays. Top Stories