Clemson has had a long history of having All-American linebackers who were the leaders of the defense. In 1981, All-American linebacker Jeff Davis led the Tigers to their first and only national championship, and Davis is now in the Ring of Honor at Clemson. It doesn’t stop there, though, as Levon Kirkland had an outstanding 1991 campaign that earned him consensus All-American honors. Six years later Anthony Simmons led a stout Clemson defense which propelled him to becoming an All-American. In 2000, Keith Adams became the next linebacker to join the All-American club at Clemson from his position, and he was a joy to watch on the football field. Adams was just an absolute beast on the field and seemingly made every big play when the Tigers needed him to. The most recent All-American linebacker at Clemson was Leroy Hill in 2004. Hill was extremely physical and led a defense that had to make numerous big plays because the Tiger offense was not exactly a thing of beauty. There have been some good linebackers at Clemson since then such as Anthony Waters, Antonio Clay, and Nick Watkins, but since 2000 the Tigers have failed to produce a consensus All-American linebacker.
This season the Tigers have a formidable duo at linebacker in Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey. Anthony was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and actually lost his starting job midway through the season last year to Shuey. These two were splitting time at middle linebacker last year, but this year defensive coordinator Brent Venables has moved Shuey to outside linebacker with Anthony starting at the middle once again. Both of these players have made big plays throughout the course of the first three games of the season. Anthony has great speed and has improved his gap discipline from a year ago. Last year you would see him over-pursue sometimes which would lead to big plays for the opposing offense. This year he has made big strides and leads the linebacker unit with four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Anthony is also the leader on the team in total tackles with 37, 16 of which came last Thursday night against NC State. The talent was always there with Anthony, but now he has added more discipline and confidence giving him the total package.
Not to be outdone by his fellow linebacker, Spencer Shuey is also having a stellar year so far. He is second on the team with 35 total tackles and has been Johnny on the spot recovering fumbles against Georgia and NC State. Shuey is a tough kid with underrated sideline-to-sideline speed. He is the type of player that does not miss tackles. If he gets an arm on you, then he is going to take you down to the ground. In the much-anticipated week one matchup with Georgia, Shuey rose to the occasion tallying 18 total tackles to go along with the fumble recovery. Last week against NC State he recorded 12 total tackles in the Tigers’ victory. Shuey helped change the attitude of the defense last season when he came into the game against Georgia Tech and had a big safety to help seal the win for the Tigers.
The linebacker position has been a weakness over the past few seasons, but the combination of Anthony and Shuey are quickly reminding people that Clemson has a great linebacker history and that they want to be part of that legacy. With the way these two are playing, it is not crazy to think that one of them could end up being an All-American at their position. The leadership that they bring to the table is extremely important, with the majority of it coming by example. They do their job and play hard on every single play, which is one of the reasons why this Clemson defense has looked much better this season.
Travis Patterson, Writer For ACC on Rantsports.com. Follow on Twitter @tpat20.