Spring Report Card: Linebackers
Anytime you lose a great playmaker like Leroy Hill, there will be a cause for concern about his replacements. Anthony Waters has made the move over to the middle linebacker spot. Waters has been one of the most consistent linebackers on the team the last two seasons, but he has not posted the numbers that he is capable of posting. Middle linebacker is the more natural position for Waters, but he was one of best eleven on defense last year, so he played outside linebacker.
This spring Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie showed that Waters will not be alone in replacing Hill. While in the past Clemson has replaced one reat linebacker with another great linebacker, this time it may be a great trio that replaces the one star. We have talked about many times in the past that Billie is a potential star, well if he carries his play over into the fall, potential becomes reality in 2005 for Mr. Billie.
Billie is a tremendous hitter, but he is also very capable of dropping back into the coverage. One of the best assets he possesses is his great speed in any direction. It would not be surprise, if Billie is the team's leading tackler this season.
Nick Watkins was having his best spring as a Tiger. Due to a team rule violation, he was unable to participate in the Orange and White game. Many expected Antonio Clay or Josh Miller to come in and push Watkins this fall, but Watkins has elevated his play to another level.
Lionel Richardson may have been the second biggest surprise of the spring next to La'Donte Harris. At times, Coach Bowden mentioned Richardson as pushing Waters for a starting role. Richardson, a former walk-on, has an outstanding work ethic and has a motor that never stops running. Despite having a solid spring, we still forecast Courtney Vincent to move back to linebacker and take the #2 spot behind Waters.
David Dunham did this spring what he has done his entire career and that is simply perform. Dunham is not going to be All-ACC, but he is a workhorse, who may be the most dependable player on the team. Whether it is on special teams or at linebacker, Dunham wants to find a way to make a play. Watkins starts over Dunham right now, because he played really well not because Dunham did not play well.
Maurice Nelson is the backup for Billie, and he still has not reached his potential. Nelson was very highly touted coming in as a freshman, but he has yet to make the impact many thought he would. This is one of the bigger drop offs from one to two on the defensive depth chart. Nelson showed the ability to make a big play, but then on the next play miss an assignment that would prove costly.
This group has a chance to be special this fall. It may not be the one star, but it was very exciting watching Waters, Watkins, and Billie make plays together.