CLEMSON – “Anything else you need me to tell these meatheads?”
OK, so maybe Spencer Shuey doesn’t actually say that – either seriously or in jest – to his position coach and Clemson’s defensive coordinator, Brent Venables.
He’d have the leeway, though. When Venables is asked what Shuey brings to the table as he enters his first fall camp as an unquestioned starting linebacker, lots of big words leave his mouth.
“Leadership. Consistency. Toughness. Coachability. Understanding. Making plays,” Venables said. “I have a very high level of expectation from him right now, and I don’t expect hiccups along the way.”
A certain level of comprehension in Venables’ system took about half his first season to turn the defense from subpar to respectable. One factor Venables credits is this: during the first six games of 2012, nobody took charge of game management on the field.
Shuey started to get it the middle of last year. Entering 2013, there’s a number of others who can follow the fifth-year senior Shuey’s lead.
“I don’t have a confidence meter, but I think he’s a very confident player within the confines of our system,” Venables said. “He has every reason to be very happy with where we’re at there.”
Chosen to represent Clemson’s defense at the ACC Kickoff, Shuey spoke like a team leader should.
“It’s starting to become more of a player-driven defense, and holding each other’s accountable probably the most influential thing you can do for each other,” Shuey said. “As long as we can build depth and rotate guys and keep them fresh, I think that’s where it starts. We’re excited about our front seven and think we can impact the game.”
Due to his vocal leadership, Shuey wrested the middle linebacker position at midseason from former blue-chip prospect Stephone Anthony, who saw his snap count reduced dramatically the rest of the season. Anthony made 46 tackles his first five games, but had just 31 the last eight outings and only three in the final three games.
“It was difficult to adjust to, but whichever guy’s better and wants to play, that’s the guy,” Anthony said. “You accept that. It was a growth time for me. It humbled me, and just one step at a time, I gotta keep going.”
Anthony’s regained the No. 1 mike linebacker spot on the depth chart in camp, with Shuey and his 93 tackles – just two off last year’s pace set by Jonathan Willard – moving into Willard’s weakside ‘backer position.
“Oh, it’s real good. That’s my brother there,” Anthony said. “He keeps me straight, I keep him straight, and we’re on a string. Our strengths complement each other real well. He’s able to correct me, I’m able to correct him, and we grow as one.”
Anthony worked on his hands in the offseason, as well as packing on ten pounds of muscle.
“He’s had an incredible offseason. He’s impressed me quite a bit with how big he’s gotten,” Shuey said. “So I definitely expect a lot from him. Playing next to him, we’ve been able to build some great chemistry at linebacker and we’re excited about it.”
Those two and strongside linebacker Quandon Christian, who produced a strong scrimmage Saturday with an interception and two fumble recoveries, are the frontrunners to start week one against Georgia.
“He’s a playmaker, man,” defensive end Vic Beasley said of Christian. “He was making plays for us last year, and hopefully he’ll continue that this year.”
With others like Tony Steward, T.J. Burrell, Kellen Jones and Ben Boulware pushing for playing time, Venables is content with his linebacker group.
“I think we’ll be better there,” he said, “just because of our experience, understanding, everything that you go through in your growth and maturation as players.”