Special teams hitmaster Chad Smith hoping to take his success to linebacker

by - Senior Writer -
Smith makes a jarring tackle against Ohio St. in the Fiesta Bowl
Smith makes a jarring tackle against Ohio St. in the Fiesta Bowl

CLEMSON - Chad Smith was a key component in Clemson’s special teams success last season, making big play after big play on kickoff or punt coverage.

Now he wants to take that success to middle linebacker.

Smith redshirted in 2015 but played in every game last season, logging 13 total tackles. He was a force on special teams, something that he enjoyed.

“To be able to go out there and fly around and be aggressive, especially on kickoffs, because that is where you have to be able to let it go,” Smith said after Friday’s practice. “You have to be aggressive. You have to have that mentality to go down there and make big plays and make big hits. That is part of being a linebacker as well, so that has definitely helped us develop into good linebackers.”

“Kickoff is the same way. You want to be that first guy down there. You want to be the first guy down there to make that tackle, big hit or whatever. It has definitely helped me to develop that mentality, and I’m looking forward to being on that team again this year.”

Smith has been a regular part of the linebacker rotation this spring. The departure of Ben Boulware has led to former MIKE (middle) linebacker Kendall Joseph spending time at the WILL (weakside) spot formerly occupied by Boulware. Smith has been sharing snaps at MIKE with Tre Lamar, and he told TigerNet he is comfortable in the middle.

"Pretty comfortable. I've spent most of my time here at MIKE," Smith said. "I've played a little bit of WILL, and then during the season at SAM and in certain packages, I've been a SAM-defensive end hybrid. I'm pretty comfortable at MIKE."

While two of the three linebackers off of Clemson's national championship team return, there's a huge leadership void left by the departure of Boulware, but Smith said each member of the linebacker corps has taken it upon themselves to fill that void.

"Ben leaves a big hole to fill in regards to leadership, but we've come together as a unit to fill that role," Smith said. "Guys like Kendall (Joseph), Dorian (O'Daniel) are taking the lead, but as a unit, we're coming together to fill that role. Each one of us believes that we're a leader, regardless if you're a freshman, redshirt, whatever, you're a linebacker. Coach V (Brent Venables) stresses that the linebacker has to be the leader on the defense, so we pride ourselves as individuals to be leaders when we're out there on the field."

Clemson’s middle linebacker is responsible for making many of the defensive calls, and Smith said he’s spending plenty of time watching film.

“I’m getting that information in the film room, and then I’m bringing it on the field and applying it and letting it go,” the redshirt sophomore said after Friday’s practice. “I’m trying not to think too much. I know what to do out there, so I’m trying not to overthink things and just going out there playing and letting it go.

“Communication and knowledge is my best part, and my biggest improvement is just bringing it to the field. I have been out there competing. This is my third spring actually. It has been good to get around the guys and compete out there and feed off the older veterans such as Kendall and Dorian. Overall, I think this has been a really good spring for me.”

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