CLEMSON — Football hurts. Redshirt sophomore Kendall Joseph has learned that the hard way.
Shoulder and knee injuries, plus a concussion sustained in a November practice, robbed Joseph of eight games of action in 2015.
The caliber of middle linebackers Clemson has rolled out is strong; Stephone Anthony was a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints two years ago, and B.J. Goodson went to the New York Giants in this spring’s fourth round. Because weakside linebacker Ben Boulware is one of the better returning linebackers in the ACC, the position is not considered a point of weakness on paper for the Tigers in 2016.
Yet Joseph might be under more pressure than any other individual on Clemson’s depth chart on defense. It’s his responsibility to make the calls, to recognize formations, to keep the Tigers’ young defense together in early season road games at Auburn and Georgia Tech — plus that little trip to Tallahassee on Oct. 29.
That is, if Joseph can stay on the field. He suffered an AC joint sprain in fall camp, then later had knee surgery. Both hindrances cost him multiple games. Then he collided with former safety Jefferie Gibson in practice, holding him out one more game.
“I’m healed up now. Yeah, it was frustrating, but it’s all God’s plan. That’s what I really believed,” Joseph said during spring practices. “I just had to be patient and I was still a young guy, and B.J. had a great season, so I couldn’t be jealous of him. I just kept trying to learn and get healthy. I learned a lot last year.”
According to Boulware, Joseph “could have played” more in 2015, and had he been healthy, Joseph would have. Boulware and Goodson were overused and fatigued by the end of the season due to a significant lack of depth, and unless true freshmen Tre Lamar or Shaq Smith are ready for the show, Brent Venables again in 2016 deals with a thin group of game-ready linebackers behind Boulware and Joseph.
Boulware cross-trained in the spring just in case he needed to play middle linebacker, but the senior captain said late in spring that was unnecessary thanks to Joseph’s capabilities.
“Kendall had the best spring out of anybody (in 2015); the tackles and assists he had last year doubled me and B.J.,” Boulware said. “He was just hurt so much, he couldn’t play. So Kendall will definitely hold it down, there’s no reason for me to play “Mike.”
“He’s always had a good attitude. It sucks because he’s been hurt, and he’s been ready to play since freshman year, but injuries have held him back. I think it’s helped him grow as a man. I think he’ll be able to show that this season.”