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Tre Lamar

Chad Smith

Judah Davis

Jamie Skalski


Kendall Joseph

J.D. Davis

Shaq Smith

Jake Venables


Jalen Williams

Isaiah Simmons

Baylon Spector

Mike Jones Jr.

Green = Things I got right / Red = Things I got wrong

2018 Season Preview

Entering 2017, the Clemson LB corps was going to be without their heart and soul, Ben Boulware. Boulware was the kind of guy that is impossible to replace. His leadership, acumen, fire, and intimidating physicality was something that made him a legend in Clemson football lore. Of course, winning a National Championship didn’t hurt his legacy either.

Starter Kendall Joseph returned last year, but the staff used him at both MLB and WLB to try to find the best rotation at LB. Joseph had another great year and lead the team in tackles. Joseph missed the FSU and The Citadel games with a leg injury, but returned for the final three games of the season and seemed to be fine.

At the other LB spot, Coach Venables began the season with 5-Star athlete Tre Lamar. Lamar was solid, but unspectacular. He didn’t dominate like a 5-Star coming of age, but when opposing teams tested him, he showed he was no weak link either. He was especially excellent manning the middle against GT and shutting down the dive. He also made a monster hit against FSU QB James Blackmon that jarred the ball loose and allowed him to recover it inside the FSU 10. Lamar injured his shoulder in that game, though, and ended up missing the rest of the season. Was the light coming on and Tre was just robbed of his breakout by the injury?

In the absence of Lamar and Joseph, Jamie Skalski got the start against The Citadel at MLB after playing WLB his first year and a half. However, it was J.D. Davis that emerged as the permanent starter alongside KJ. Davis started at WLB and Joseph bumped back over to MLB. Davis was excellent against Alabama and really matched their physicality early on. I thought he was the best defensive player in the game, and perhaps as a reward for his performance down the stretch, he remains the starter post spring. Lamar will enter fall camp having to earn his job back.

The big loss heading into 2018, is SLB Dorian O’Daniel. OD was fantastic last season en route to being named an All American and finalist for the Butkus Award. OD was great against the run and in coverage and thus we did not need to play a nickel back last year. Isaiah Simmons, a similar type of athlete, gets the nod to replace him.


Fall Camp Depth Chart

WLB: J.D. Davis, Jamie Skalski, Shaq Smith
MLB: Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar, Chad Smith, Judah Davis
Sam: Isaiah Simmons, Jalen Williams, Mike Jones Jr.

The question about the defense I’ve been asked the most since spring practice has ended is, “Is J.D. Davis really better than Tre Lamar?” The answer to that is no, but it’s not really the most important question there either. The more important question is, “Are KJ at MLB and JD at WLB better than Lamar at MLB and KJ at WLB.” The answer to that question is that against more physical teams, the KJ/JD combo is better and against more space-oriented teams, KJ/Tre is better. The truth in my mind though, is that JD, Tre, and Ski are all close in ability. The battle between these 3 should continue through fall camp and could go back and forth the entire season. That’s ok because competition is never a bad thing.

The one thing we know for sure is that Kendall Joseph is head and shoulders above the others. Furthermore, KJ’s ability to play both ILB positions allows Venables the flexibility to rotate all four LBs in the 2-deep. I expect another strong year out of Joseph and some much deserved post-season accolades to come his way as well.

At Sam, freakish athlete Isaiah Simmons takes over for Dorian O’Daniel. Simmons has all (or more of) the size, speed, and toughness that O’Daniel possessed. Simmons’ main issue is between the ears understanding his assignment and making the correct read. Based on what I saw last year in the Nickel, he can be fooled into not doing his job. Hopefully, with the reps this spring and more reps in camp will clean that up before the season starts. As a blitzer off the edge, I think we are getting an upgrade over OD here.  In the spring game, IS was able to disrupt the offense coming off the edge and even run down plays from behind for no gain.


Season Depth Chart

WLB: J.D. Davis, Jamie Skalski, Shaq Smith, Jake Venables (redshirt)
MLB: Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar, Chad Smith, Judah Davis
Sam: Isaiah Simmons, Jalen Williams, Baylon Spector, Mike Jones Jr. (redshirt)

If healthy, KJ is going to play a lot of snaps and lead the team in tackles for a 2nd year in a row. I think the other 3 guys, as I said above, are all going to get starts based on how they perform from week to week. My hope that one of them is able to a leap up to KJ’s level and become the full time starter, but we will be fine if that doesn’t happen.

I think that both true freshman LBs, Jake Venables and Mike Jones, will redshirt. I think Baylon Spector, who is capable of providing depth at both WLB and Sam, will slide over to be the 3rd team Sam. I like Jalen Williams to play a few series per game, or to find a home in the Nickel, but Simmons should play the vast majority of meaningful snaps. With OD gone, a spot at ILB opens up in the Nickel. I think Jalen would be great in that role, but he hasn’t sniffed ILB since he was a freshman. Then again, neither had OD.

The Short Yardage package is where Chad Smith has played (usually on the weakside edge) and, believe or not, Judah was great in his role in SY at the end of the year filling in for Lamar. I expect both guys to reprise their roles, and as long as they are playing well, keep them. Shaq Smith is the odd man out. He has improved a lot since his freshman year, but I think he’s still a year away from meaningful snaps.


The Kraken Depth Chart


WLB: J.D. Davis, Jamie Skalski, Shaq Smith, Jake Venables (redshirt)
MLB: Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar, Chad Smith, Judah Davis
Sam: Isaiah Simmons, Jalen Williams, Baylon Spector, Mike Jones Jr. (redshirt)


WLB: Jalen Williams, Shaq Smith
MLB: Kendall Joseph, Jamie Skalski/Tre Lamar
NB: Isaiah Simmons, DB: A.J. Terrell

Short Yardage

WLB: Chad Smith, Kendall Joseph
MLB: Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar
SLB: Judah Davis, J.D. Davis

Spring Preview 2018

Linebacker has been a position of consistency for the past several years.  Since 2014, the ILB lineage is strong with Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward, B.J. Goodson, Ben Boulware,and Kendall Joseph. The biggest critique of the position group has been depth. The two starters have played a ton of snaps and we saw how BB wore down by the end of 2015. Heading into 2018, it looks like we might have the depth we’ve been needing. Everybody from 2017 is back on the inside. More on that below.

Both starters from the beginning of the season got hurt and missed games last year. KJ missed FSU and The Citadel. MLB Tre Lamar missed The Citadel, SC, and Miami. Jamie Skalski and J.D. Davis stepped in and were solid in their absence. What does this mean heading into 2018?

Sam LB is where we take a hit this year with the loss of the great Dorian O’Daniel. OD could cover in man or zone, rarely missed a tackle, and had great speed and agility in the open field as well. He will not be easy to replace.

The new blood on campus for the spring is Mike Jones Jr. and he will be joined by Jake Venables in the fall.

Kendall Joseph

Joseph is the undisputed leader of the LB corps and is also the best LB on the team. He is heading into spring as an undisputed starter for the 3rd year in a row. Joseph can play either MLB or WLB on an All-ACC caliber level. Much like last year, where he plays will be largely determined by the skill set of whomever his tag-team partner turns out to be.

Tre Lamar, J.D. Davis, Jamie Skalski

This is a position battle not getting a lot of publicity right now, but it should be a major story-line this spring.  Who is going to be the starter at ILB with Kendall Joseph?

Tre Lamar was the starter for 8 of the first 10 games in 2017, but after he suffered a shoulder injury against FSU, we never saw him at MLB again. We were told he was 100% for the Alabama game, but he didn’t play a snap. J.D. Davis started that game and was great, especially early in the game. Did the staff feel like JD was having a great game and was the best option, or was Lamar held out for another reason. It’s just strange that Lamar’s return got so much hype and he didn’t play a single snap at MLB in the game. If Lamar was healthy in bowl practices, can we assume that moving forward, the staff feels like the best duo is KJ at MLB and JD at WLB?

The initial starter when Lamar went out was Jamie Skalski. Skalski played MLB and JD played WLB against The Citadel. When KJ came back vs. SC, he played MLB and JD started at WLB. JD got hurt early and Skalski finished the game at WLB. Against Miami, Skalski started at WLB over JD  Then against Alabama, JD started over Skalski. Confused yet?

So what we have is 4 ILBs that have started games and are capable of playing meaningful snaps.  The battle for snaps and the starting job should carry over into Fall Camp, but it begins this spring.

Judah Davis, Shaq Smith, Chad Smith, Mike Jones

Outside of the 2-deep at ILB, are some intriguing players.

Judah Davis is probably the odd man out here because we need to develop depth for next year and he is a senior. Then again, he played the best ball of his career late in the season. He played great against The Citadel and that (plus the injuries) seemed to earn him playing time against SC. That’s where he shocked me with his ability to play with leverage and his ability to shed blockers. Who knows?  It’s doubtful he finds a role on defense, but we’ve seen Dabo prop up veterans like Judah late in their career.

Speaking of playing their best ball late in the year.  Shaq Smith also parlayed some good work against The Citadel into some PT against SC and Miami.  It was great to see the light start to flicker for him. Already a fantastic athlete, he clearly started to figure out how to play both MLB and WLB. He was a much more instinctual player and played faster than ever. He’s still probably a year away from challenging Lamar or Skalski for meaningful snaps, but the upside will always be a factor.

Chad Smith is a solid, but unspectacular player that carved out a niche as an OLB in our Short Yardage package. He was good in that spot as a guy with DE height and length with LB agility. He is also very good on special teams as well.

Mike Jones is almost certainly going to be a redshirt if we don’t have any attrition post-spring. He’ll start the spring as the 8th ILB trying to work his way up. I think it would be an amazing accomplishment for him if he were to jump up in the 3-deep and avoid a redshirt. Working in his favor is that, two years from now, 6 of the LBs in front of him will be gone. Only he and Shaq will still be here. If the staff sees that they hit on him, they could begin the grooming process this fall.

Jalen Williams, Isaiah Simmons, Baylon Spector, Jarvis Magwood

Goodbye, Dorian. Hello, opportunity.

I was totally against the move of Jalen Williams from WLB to Sam. Jalen had played so well when Boulware got hurt against Wake Forest, I thought he was a future starter there. He moved to Sam his sophomore year and it was a disaster. He was a fish out of water on the outside. Little by little, he began to improve. By the end of last year, he had developed into a solid Sam that could still be getting better. Unfortunately, I do not see him as the type of “3-down” Sam that OD was for us. Unless he vastly improves, a NB is going to have to come in for him.

…which makes the versatility of Isaiah Simmons interesting. Simmons played Sam last spring and showed the he was a dynamite blitzer off the edge. Simmons is bigger, faster, and more agile than Jalen. The WS spot is a more important position in our defense, so if we need Simmons there, that’s where he’s going to be. However, if Muse can fix his read and recognition issues, Simmons would be ideal for the Sam spot. This spring, Simmons is kind of a stop-gap option at Sam in order to try and get the best 11 on the field.

Baylon Spector is not to be overlooked either. He is also dynamite off the edge and better in space than Jalen. Does he understand the defense though?  Spector is going to likely run with the 2s and 3s this spring and get a lot of reps. In the fall, he’s certainly going to play and should be given the opportunity to develop into the Sam of the future.

Fall Preview 2017

Fall Camp LB Depth Chart

MLB: Tre Lamar, Kendall Joseph

WLB: Kendall Joseph, Jamie Skalski

SAM: Dorian O’Daniel, Jalen Williams

Kendall Joseph

Right hand on your heart for Ben Boulware.  The emotional leader and enforcer of the defense has departed.  Last year, I discussed the possibility of a 3 man rotation at LB where Kendall Joseph plays both MLB and WLB.  The reason I brought that up is because Joseph’s skill set is probably better suited to playing WLB.  Joseph has the rare “gift of gap” that defies the typical fundamentals you want from a LB.  At WLB, his skill set is an even better fit.  Tre Lamar and Jamie Skalski are in a dead heat to be opposite KJ, and that’s where the 3 man rotation could come in.

Lamar is an MLB all the way and Skalski is a WLB all the way.  Venables has shown that he likes to play his starting ILBs a ton of snaps, but this year, Lamar or Skalski is going to have to separate themselves in fall camp for that to happen. So the mission in fall camp is to find another starter at ILB, or if that doesn’t happen, carry the battle into September with a 3 man rotation.

At Sam, it’s the Dorian O’Daniel show.  O’Daniel had his breakout year last year, and really, all he needed was the opportunity. He has been the most talented Sam on the roster since 2014, but for some reason, Venables didn’t trust him.  He does now. By the end of the season, OD was stealing the NB snaps from Carter and had secured a spot as the Sam in the Dime of Doom as well. OD is a known commodity with a good chance to become a star as a Senior.

Season LB Depth Chart

MLB: Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar, Chad Smith

WLB: Jamie Skalski, Kendall Joseph, J.D. Davis or Shaq Smith

Dorian O’Daniel

SAM: Dorian O’Daniel, Isaiah Simmons, Jalen Williams

I want Lamar to win the MLB job, but something tells me that Skalski is going to be the guy that Venables goes with. At WLB, you can be a more aggressive playmaker, and as we saw with Boulware, be hidden more easily than at MLB.  If you make a misread at MLB, it is much more likely to end up as a big play (see Lamar’s gaffe in SY against Troy). So, I’m going with Skalski as the starter and Lamar as the backup in a 3 man rotation.

At the backup spots, I think they realize Chad Smith is tentative and lacks the physicality to pull meaningful snaps. Judah Davis is just as good as Smith right now but KJ and Tre are head and shoulders above the rest. The door is open for the speedy and intelligent Justin Foster to avoid a redshirt as a backup MLB if they so choose.  At WLB, I think they would be more comfortable with J.D. Davis as a starter than Chad, Shaq, or Judah. However, Shaq’s upside probably gets him in the game during garbage time ahead of J.D.

Isaiah Simmons looked really good in the spring game (and Baylon Spector as well, but I think he redshirts). Simmons is looking like the starter at Sam next year and I expect him to leap Jalen at some point during the season.

The Kraken LB Depth Chart

MLB: Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar, J.D. Davis

WLB: Jamie Skalski or Jalen Williams, Kendall Joseph

SAM: Dorian O’Daniel, Isaiah Simmons or Shaq Smith

Tre Lamar

With the starters, I’m going with the same logic I used above. All things being even, I’d give the edge to Skalski because of the position he plays. The 2nd team would be the same as above also.

The third string would involve some shifting based on the LB’s skill set and our needs.

I’d put J.D. at MLB in case of disaster.  I believe him to be the 4th best ILB behind KJ, Tre, and Skalski, so if the unthinkable happened and both Tre and KJ got hurt, he’s going to start at MLB. I know he can play WLB, so in fall camp I want him to learn MLB so I don’t have to teach him the position in one week on the fly.

I’d move Jalen back to WLB and give him a shot at the starting spot.  In 2015, he was the 2nd best WLB we had and played great when BB got hurt.  With Simmons being the heir apparent at Sam, and Jalen limited as a Sam, why would I have him at Sam?

I’ve said this since he was in high school, but Shaq Smith’s skill set is that of a Sam.  The dude can run, tackle in space, and has great coverage instincts.  Who cares if he weighs 240 if he can move?  I’d have him slim down a little bit and play Sam. If you brought back a 22 year old Levon Kirkland at 240 pounds and told me I could only play him at Sam, I’d start him at Sam over OD. Shaq is a freak athletically. I’d put him where I could get him on the field.

Pre Spring 2017

When Brent Venables arrived in 2012, Linebacker had been perhaps our most disappointing position group for many years. That was especially disappointing to those of us who were around in the late 80s/early 90s when the program referred to itself as “Linebacker U.” So many great LBs came through Clemson from the mid 70s to the mid 200s, that it didn’t seem possible that there would ever be a drought at the position.

Leroy Hill

Leroy Hill

The moment our LB tradition seemed to come crashing down was in the 2nd half of the opener against Florida Atlantic in 2006.  Anthony Waters had elected not to turn pro after the 2005 season and instead returned for the 2006 season.  In the 2nd half of the opening game, Waters tore his ACL and that started a drought that lasted for 7 years.

The moment our LB tradition began to return was when Venables pulled sophomore 5-star recruit Stephone Anthony, in favor of Spencer Shuey.  Shuey had anvils for feet and was nowhere near the athlete that Anthony was, but he knew how to play LB in BV’s system.  Shuey could make instantaneous reads and get downhill in a hurry.  Anthony learned from the benching and came out in 2013 as a new man. In 2014, Anthony became a 1st round draft pick of the Saints.

Since then, we have rolling at LB.

2014: Stephone Anthony*, Tony Steward*, B.J. Goodson/Korrin Wiggins

2015: B.J. Goodson*, Ben Boulware, Travis Blanks/Ryan Carter

2016: Kendall Joseph, Ben Boulware, Dorian O’Daniel/Ryan Carter

* NFL Player

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

The one thing that has somewhat avoided us is solid depth at ILB.  With the exception of Boulware coming in for Tony Steward, the starters have played all the meaningful snaps. Fortunately, we have avoided major injury at ILB the past three years as well. Here was my early look at 2017 from last year at this time.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but we should only lose one LB after this season, Ben Boulware.  Everybody else should return in 2017. I would expect Kendall Joseph to move to WLB and Tre Lamar to start at MLB.  Dorian O’Daniel and Korrin Wiggins should still be here to reprise their Sam/NB roles.  As far as the backups go, as of right now, I would pencil in J.D. Davis at MLB, Jamie Skalski at WLB, and Shaq Smith at Sam.  We do not currently have a true LB committed for 2017 at this time.  Logan Rudolph is really a DE.

Kendall Joseph is the returning starter inside. Joseph played Mike (well) last year but, I still anticipate him being our starting WLB this year in order to get the 2 best LBs on the field  Joseph has “the gift of gap.” He has the “angles and leverage” 6th sense that is very hard to teach.  He is just good at reading the play quickly, slipping past offensive linemen, and taking great angles. Most MLBs would draw an unfavorable grade from me for not taking on the blockers, but Joseph is the rare exception. Just go play football, young man. His exceptional abilities are reflected in great results and a lack of mistakes. With Joseph’s skill set, it is possible that he would be a (gasp) upgrade over Ben Boulware at WLB.  Joseph can be equally as destructive as BB as a blitzer, filling gaps backside, and without being exposed as much in coverage.

Anthony Simmons

Anthony Simmons

The #2 LB is Tre Lamar and is probably a better fit at MLB. Lamar has All American athleticism. The concern I would have with Lamar is mental, not physical. The MLB is typically expected to be the QB of the front 7 due to his positioning within the defense.  If Lamar is ready to take that role (or Venables is comfortable with Joseph keeping that role on the weak side), Lamar certainly has the size, speed, agility, and athleticism to be the starter.  When he was in there last year, he did have some busts and thus Venables seemed to eliminate his meaningful snaps by the end of the year.  Again, this is a mental issue and may already be corrected.  Venables hates mental busts more than anything, so if Lamar can’t handle it yet, that would keep Joseph at WLB and open the door for others at WLB.

From what I’ve seen so far, if Joseph stays at MLB, the best option at WLB would be Jamie Skalski. Skalski’s game is so similar to Boulware’s, that I could see BV going with him.  As I pointed out when he committed, he’s a good bit ahead of Shaq Smith in every area except for coverage ability and instincts.  Smith has the 5-star measurables but he is nowhere near the instinctual, tough, football player that Skaski is heading into the spring.  I hope to see improvement out of Shaq this spring.  I still think his skill set is best suited for Sam where he can play in space, but at 240, it would seem that is not going to happen.

So what we really have here is a battle for the starting job between Tre Lamar and Jamie Skalski, but at two different positions. This is the reason for all the reports of “cross training” as I’m sure you probably deduced on your own since we have been discussing Joseph’s move to Will for a year now.

If Lamar wins the starting job at MLB, I would like to see J.D. Davis and Chad Smith battle it out for the backup spot at MLB. Chad Smith’s regression last year was probably the biggest disappointment in the spring. As a freshman, Smith showed advanced football instincts and IQ, but needed to be able to shed blocks and be a little more aggressive.  He did not get more aggressive and in fact, looked like a player that was in the process of being reprogrammed. He just looked lost out there.

1990 Clemson LB Corps

1990 Clemson LB Corps-Linebacker U: Kirkland, Brewster, Johnson, Jackson, McDaniel, Simmons, Shepard, et al.

I realize that there is a bit of a stigma against the Davis twins, but J.D. can play. Last spring at this time, J.D. morphed into a serviceable option at LB and was the 4th best LB we had in the spring game. He is probably a natural WLB, but I think that because of how long he has been in the system, he could be the guy to step in if something happened to Lamar and Joseph. I even think, and brace yourself for this one, J.D. could end up being the starter in week one. It would be as much of a gesture and a nod to his hard work, and probably wouldn’t last, so don’t freak out if it happens.

Judah Davis is the bigger of the Davis twins but, as of last spring, was not as far along as J.D.  He seems to question his reads which causes footwork problems and false steps.  He’s been a missed assignment waiting to happen the past couple years.

Andy Headen and Jeff Davis

Andy Headen and Jeff Davis

At Sam, Dorian O’Daniel became a breakout star last year. Instead of being dusted off for the GT game every year, OD really got in a groove midway through the season. Slowly but surely, he began to take snaps away from Korrin Wiggins, K’Von Wallace, and Ryan Carter, until he became the Sam on 1st and 2nd down and also in the Dime. Ryan Carter came in for him in 3rd down situations where we stayed in nickel, otherwise, he was on the field. We have been waiting for the 6’1″, 220 pounder with the 4.50 speed to take over for good and he did so in his junior year.  All we can hope for in 2017 is more of the same.

Jalen Williams was moved to Sam last spring and the results were not encouraging.  He has been a coverage liability due to the fact that he has no hips and very limited ability to change direction our of a backpedal. I felt sorry for him that they even asked him to try to cover a guy like Renfrow in the slot. Late in the season, however, I did see some signs of life and I think that was him fully digesting the mental aspect of Sam.  I remain convinced he is a better fit at WLB. Williams operates better in the box and is only behind Joseph in ability to blitz.



It may be a foggy memory for us now, but for many years our Tigers struggled at the LB position. The struggle first became real in 2006 when Anthony Waters tore his ACL in the opening game and it continued for about 6 years. Yes, we had some good players at LB over that period of time

like Nick Watkins and Kavell Connor, but for the most part, our LBs weren’t the playmakers that we had been used to seeing during the previous 25 years.  Certainly, nobody was calling uusing the term, “Linebacker U”  anymore. Exit Vic Koenning and Kevin Steele and enter Brent Venables.

When Venables got here, he demanded less from a schematic standpoint than Steele and more from an aggression standpoint than Koenning. Simply put, he put the LBs in position to be attackers that force the issue instead of being read and react players. Our marquee recruits at LB were a little slow to pick up on this, but when Spencer Shuey was inserted into the lineup midway through 2012, we started to see an overall change in style of play.  By 2013, Stephone Anthony was mentally on board and ever since then, Venables has been able to develop the havoc-inducing LBs we all love to watch. We have still lacked depth at LB throughout this process though. Is this the year that changes?

When you think “havoc-inducing” I’m sure there is an image of one player that springs into your mind.  Ben Boulware is entering his 3rd year of quality playing time and his 2nd as the starter.  At Will LB he is an effective blitzer that will be seen attacking downhill half of the time he is on the field.  Blitzing him regularly also allows Venables to mask BB’s liabilities in coverage.

Boulware is a thumper and enforcer for the defense but he was bothered by a shoulder injury late in the year last year.  I saw him favoring the shoulder in the spring game as well.  I would like to see a solid backup emerge that could take the first series of the 2nd and 4th quarters in order to save Boulware some mileage on his body.

For the 2nd year in a row we will have a new starting MLB.  Kendall Joseph will step in to replace the departed B.J. Goodson.  Joseph was the best player on the field defensively for Clemson in the spring game.  He reminds me a little bit of Keith Adams.  Joseph has the “angles and leverage” gift that is very hard to teach.  He is just good at slipping past offensive linemen by reading the play quickly and taking great angles.

I think the Jalen Williams move to Sam has not worked. To me, he is a Will LB through and through. I know they wanted to get Shaq Smith some reps at Will but, Williams was a fish out of water at Sam. Williams was eaten alive by Renfrow in the spring game and was my worst reviewed player on either side of the ball in the spring game.  Therefore, I expect him to move back to WLB in the fall.  Jalen was great in relief of Boulware against Wake Forest last year and it appeared that the light had come on for him at WLB.

Another reason I expect Jalen to move back to WLB is because of what I saw out of Shaq Smith.  I don’t think he is ready for primetime and Jalen is the better option out WLB.  I think one of two things need to happen for Smith.  He needs to get a lot more physical in the box or he needs to move to Sam where his skill set matches up better.  He is excellent in coverage and operates comfortably in space where he can see the offense.  Right now, he likes to move somewhere to where he can see the backfield and then runs out of there after he reads the play.

Tre Lamar is future All American material, friends.  As an early enrollee in the spring game, he was beastly.  I could not have been more impressed with his physicality.  He’s raw, but the combination of ruthless aggression and lateral ability is very rare.  He is far ahead of where Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward were when they came in.  He is going to play this year.

Is J.D. Davis developing into a player on us? JD graded out as the 4th best LB in the spring game from my point of view. If we had an injury or multiple injuries at ILB, he could be a serviceable replacement for sure.

I would have JD ahead of Chad Smith right now which is surprising to me after what I saw last year.  The guy I saw last year demonstrated a high football IQ and good instincts, he just needed to get off blocks and get a little more aggressive towards making plays.  Instead of improving his ability to shed and make plays, now he has added confusion of assignment to his profile.  He looked lost and hopefully, this is a one step backwards to take two steps forward situation.

Judah Davis has improved some of the footwork issues that were causing him problems last year but he is still not there yet.  JD has clearly passed him and, personally, I would not feel comfortable at all with him doing anything other than special teams. I also think they should start over with coverage units and reevaluate his role there as well. I would move Jamie Skalski ahead of him on the depth chart and give him opportunities in fall camp to show what he can do. In fact, I would have walk-on Connor Prevost ahead of him too.


I only have one player listed as a true Sam right now which is another big reason why I’d move Shaq Smith out there. The player at Sam is going to be a really good one for us though and that is Dorian O’Daniel.  OD has bided his time the past couple years and has only really received extended playing time against Georgia Tech. However, when he is in there, he has made a splash.  I can think of only one negative play that he has had over the past two years and that was on a misread where Paul Johnson changed up his blocking scheme and trapped him outside. Most players would’ve made the same mistake.

I think O’Daniel is set to breakout this year.  He has all of the size and athletic ability that you want from a true Sam.  The last true 4-3 Over Sam LB we had was Quandon Christian a few years ago.  In 2014, we used B.J. Goodson as an on-the-LOS Under Sam and Korrin Wiggins as the NB to replace him.  In 2015, we used undersized and under-speed Travis Blanks as the Sam with Ryan Carter as the NB.  This year, I expect OD to stay in the game a good bit and show off his speed by covering slot WRs more than we have allowed the Sam in the past few years.  I think Wiggins will play here also and I am interested to see who they use for the Dime package.  OD would be a good candidate to replace Kearse as the blitzer/underneath coverage guy in the Dime.

The current state of the Linebackers is a B+.  I lean towards an A here but, I’d like to see Joseph and the depth in real game action before we start heaping too much praise. I think they’ll be an A in November though.

Kraken Depth Chart

MLB-Kendall Joseph, WLB-Ben Boulware, Sam-Dorian O’Daniel

MLB-Tre Lamar*, WLB-Jalen Williams, Sam-Korrin Wiggins

MLB-J.D. Davis, WLB-Chad Smith/Jamie Skalski*, Sam-Shaq Smith*

*True Freshman

Early Look at 2017

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but we should only lose one LB after this season, Ben Boulware.  Everybody else should return in 2017. I would expect Kendall Joseph to move to WLB and Tre Lamar to start at MLB.  Dorian O’Daniel and Korrin Wiggins should still be here to reprise their Sam/NB roles.  As far as the backups go, as of right now, I would pencil in J.D. Davis at MLB, Jamie Skalski at WLB, and Shaq Smith at Sam.  We do not currently have a true LB committed for 2017 at this time.  Logan Rudolph is really a DE.

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