CLEMSON—It takes a special player to play the position of linebacker. An “aggressive, no fear, smart, intelligent, angry” player is the way that former linebacker and current Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables describes his ideal.
If it takes all of the above things to play linebacker, then to play as a “gunner” on kickoff coverage and punt coverage would take an additional dose of crazy. But that is exactly where redshirt sophomore Chad Smith excelled last season– producing a team-high 10 tackles on special teams.
The fun that he has experienced on special teams serves a second purpose—preparing him to take over at linebacker.
“You have to be aggressive. You have to have that mentality to go down there and make big plays and make big hits,” Smith said. “That is part of being a linebacker as well. So, that definitely helped us to develop into good linebackers.”
With the departure of weakside linebacker Ben Boulware to the Carolina Panther, the Tiger defensive coaching staff moved former middle linebacker Kendall Joseph to the vacated position.
While the position is one with which Smith is comfortable, having spent the majority of his first two years at the position, there is a different feeling when you are the quarterback of a defense that has received accolades such as, “The best to ever play at Clemson.”
“Pretty comfortable (at middle linebacker). I’ve spent most of my time here at MIKE (middle linebacker),” Smith said. “I’ve getting that information in the film room, and then I’m bringing it on the field and applying it and letting go. 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 go.”
And the hard work has paid after Smith impressed his position coach and coordinator, Venables in the spring game, being named a co-starter with sophomore Tre Lamar on the Tigers’ summer depth chart. But the coaching staff is looking for the linebacker to take the next step this summer.
“It was fun to see guys who haven’t had an opportunity get out there. We’ve had a chance to evaluate a lot of guys this spring,” Venables said. “And now we are looking for a growth spurt with him. Physically, mentally, in maturity and in leadership. We are looking for bigger things.”
It is that growth that Smith understands will play a large role in how successful the Tigers are this season.
If there is one place where Smith is confident that he, and the other linebackers, will not let their coach down it is in the leadership role. The spot where former Tiger Ben Boulware was so good individually, Smith believes that as a unit they will be able to fill the void.
“Ben leaves a big hole for us to fill with regards to leadership, but we’ve come together as a unit to fill that role,” Smith said. “Guys like Kendall, 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 of if you’re a freshman, redshirt or whatever—you’re a linebacker. Coach V (Venables) stresses that the linebacker has to be the leader of the defense. So, we pride ourselves as individuals to be leaders when we’re out there on the field.”