Today we examine Clemson's linebackers:
MIKE: This is a position that has been hurting over the last few years, but Brandon "Maintenance Man" Maye has slowly started to turn that around. The Freshman All American was extremely productive last year despite playing somewhat hesitant this past year. With Jenkins and Thompson eating up blockers inside, and a more experienced Maye, he is poised to have a big year and really rack up the tackles.
Entering the 2009 season Maye will be backed up by the steady Jeremy Campbell. Campbell isn't flashy or the most athletic player, but is a steady contributor that can provide dependable depth. Stanley Hunter is still learning the position while battling seizure issues. Hunter is an instinctive but inconsistent player who is still feeling his way. At times he looks tremendous busting plays before they even develop and at times he finds himself completely out of position leading to a big gain for the offense. This position also received a much needed injection of size and talent in the form of the hardnosed Spencer Shuey and the explosive hitter Corico Hawkins from this past class.
Jake Nicolopulos will help provide some much-needed size in the middle of Clemson's defense in the coming seasons. (Miller Safrit/Scout.com)
OLB: This has been a position that has underproduced over the last couple of years for combination of reasons. First, the players have been undersized of late, sacrificing size for speed in order to better accommodate ex-defensive coordinator Vic Koenning's style of play.
Second, the schemes have been so complex and coverage assignment heavy that the players were thinking on the field and playing much slower than their true game speed.
Steele is looking to change both of these in a simplified, pressure scheme while upgrading the size at backer. Kavell Conner at weakside backer is probably the most underrated player on the entire team and is a tremendously consistent player. A quiet performer on the field, Conner led the team in tackles last year and was the leading returning tackle from the year before. Conner should again see big numbers and the Tigers will rely on his tackling even more in run support as they will be turning the defensive ends loose more often for a pass rush.
Conner is backed up by Jonathan "Tig" Willard who will be groomed to replace him after this year. Willard is still learning the position, but has the talent and upside to be a very special player at Will.
Battery Creek safety Ricky Chaney could end up as an outside linebacker at Clemson in 2010. (Miller Safrit/Scout.com)
Rollins has struggled a bit in his rehab and is just now getting to 100%, and while he has the talent to be very productive, is behind the curve both in experience and in physical gains. Incoming true freshman Quandon Christian will get a long look at Sam this summer and has the chance to avoid a redshirt if he performs well.
THE BOTTOM LINE AT OLB: The Tigers lose their most productive player in Conner after this year, but are otherwise fairly young and talented. Even Conner's backup, Willard, is more talented than Conner, he just lacks seasoning. Clemson took a hit by losing Eric Fields as an academic casualty as he possessed the talent to contribute from day one. The Tigers will look to continue to upgrade both talent, but more significantly, size at the outside linebacker position.
Recent commit Ricky Chaney may end up here instead of safety if he continues to grow and fill out his frame as projected. I call for the Tigers to ink at least one more outside linebacker with the possibility of a second as an oversign in addition to Chaney.