If the Cheez-It Bowl was any indication, the Tigers’ linebackers are going to be just fine next season.
Because of the injuries to Baylon Spector and James Skalski, who seemed to have been at Clemson on the Hunter Renfrow Lifetime Plan, others got plenty of opportunities to get experience, giving fans an early preview of what to expect starting in 2022.
There is some youth and inexperience but there are also some battle-tested guys that have been biding their time. It should make for a fairly balanced group of linebackers.
The lone returning starter is junior Trenton Simpson, whose skills as a pass rusher and ability to line up at multiple spots make him a huge asset to this defense. Simpson has spent the majority of his first two seasons playing the SAM, but certainly has the versatility and talent to move inside.
Redshirt junior LaVonta Bentley has patiently waited his turn and saw plenty of time at the WILL last season. He brings a physical presence to this defense and excels at playing close to the line of scrimmage and defending the run. However, he is a little limited when in pass coverage and he’s not the fastest of guys, especially moving sideline to sideline.
Redshirt junior Keith Maguire has been a key reserve at the MIKE, and being the backup to James Skalski last season, he was limited to under 100 snaps. The Tigers were in so many close games that Skalski rarely came off the field.
In the bowl win over Iowa State, though, Maguire did some flexing. He came in after Skalski went down with an injury and recorded a career-high six tackles in what was his best performance to date.
However, it is going to be hard keeping sophomores Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter Jr off the field. Both are extremely athletic and each possesses the kind of speed Clemson hasn’t had at linebacker in recent seasons.
Carter is everything the Tigers want in their SAM linebackers. His versatility will allow the coaches to line him up in multiple spots, and if he is ready to contribute at a high level, it would allow the coaches to let Simpson move inside.
Another intriguing thing about the linebackers is Wes Goodwin. Brent Venables has been coaching this position for the past decade and has always demanded a lot of his players. How Goodwin manages the room will something to keep an eye on.
As the team gets set to start practice on Wednesday, there is one thing that is absolutely certain, and that is the fact that there should be more than enough healthy competition and at all three spots. No matter how the depth chart shakes out, Clemson should be really good at linebacker moving forward.
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