What will the linebacker depth chart look like with the departure of Shaq Smith?
|Wednesday, May 15, 2019 2:09 PM- -|
Clemson linebacker Shaq Smith has entered his name into the NCAA’s Transfer Portal, affecting the Tigers’ defensive depth chart heading into next fall.
The former 5-star linebacker racked up 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack in limited action during the 2018 season. He had 14 tackles and an interception in 13 games in 2017. He enters 2019 credited with 29 tackles (1.5 for loss), a sack and an interception over 203 snaps in 26 career games.
Smith competed with Jamie Skalski, Isaiah Simmons, and Chad Smith to round out the starting trio at linebacker this past spring. He was roundly praised by both defensive coordinator Brent Venables and head coach Dabo Swinney for his leadership abilities, especially with the departure of team leaders Kendall Joseph, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant.
So, where do the Tigers stand heading into the summer?
Expect James Skalski to start at the WILL (or weakside) linebacker spot manned by Ben Boulware and Kendall Joseph in recent seasons. Many around the program expected Skalski to start there anyway, regardless of Smith’s decision.
The Clemson coaches were able to redshirt Skalski last season but he still appeared in three games, including the National Championship. Skalski played 38 snaps, recording 10 tackles (1.0 for loss). He recorded six tackles, including one for loss, at Georgia Tech as the starting linebacker in place of Joseph, who missed the contest with an injury. He posted two tackles against Pitt and added two tackles in National Championship Game vs. No. 1 Alabama.
Venables loves to say that Skalski goes after people with “bad intentions” and that description is apt. Skalski has two years to play.
Taking over at the MIKE or middle linebacker spot is veteran Chad Smith. Smith has been a key special teams contributor who has grown into a defensive role as his career has progressed. He enters 2019 credited with 74 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a pass breakup, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble in 280 snaps over 43 games in three seasons. Smith is a graduate student and, barring injury, will play his final season in 2019.
The other linebacker starter will be Isaiah Simmons, who will start at the SAM or strongside linebacker spot. I expect Simmons to be a first-round draft choice next spring. His unique blend of athleticism and size will have the NFL scouts drooling.
Simmons transitioned from safety in 2017 to the starting nickel/SAM linebacker position in 2018 and enters 2019 credited with 146 career tackles (12.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception (which he returned 27 yards for a touchdown) in 29 career games (14 starts).
Adding depth behind those three will be Mike Jones, Jr., Jake Venables, and Baylon Spector. Five signees from the 2019 class will step on campus this summer and it’s likely that one or more of them will be asked to contribute this season. Those players are Vonta Bentley, Kane Patterson, Keith Maguire, Bryton Constantin, and Greg Williams.
Constantin tore his ACL earlier this year, however, and isn’t expected back to full strength until sometime mid-fall.