Boulware now heart of Tigers’ new-look defense

Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware celebrates his 47-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Tigers’ 40-6 victory over Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl last year in Orlando. (Clemson athletic communications)

Ever since he made the move to Clemson, Ben Boulware has been a fan favorite.

He benefits from a rare combination of proximity (Anderson is a short drive away), legacy (his older brother, Garrett, was the Tigers’ star catcher) and imagery (that bushy beard gives him the look of a lumberjack and a linebacker).

Boulware may be affable during interviews, but he’s got a don’t-mess-with-me demeanor on the field — which his position coach and defensive coordinator love. One wonders if Brent Venables wishes the Tigers didn’t have to run the nickel defense so often that he could have squeezed Boulware on the field more alongside Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward.

Both of those graduated seniors and 2015 draft picks were spelled by Boulware at times last fall, a blessing in disguise for the coming season.

Steward sat out vs. Louisville due to an injured hamstring; Boulware started and made 12 tackles, including three behind the line.

Anthony was forced to sit out the first half of the Russell Athletic Bowl due to a second-half South Carolina targeting penalty; Boulware started, and snared a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Like many other younger defenders on Clemson’s roster, Boulware had to be patient, settling for mop-up duty during the Orange Bowl campaign in 2013 and never getting more than 34 snaps in any appearance off the bench. However, he finished out last season with at least 23 snaps in all five of the final games, carefully siphoning playing time away from Steward and setting the foundation for this, his junior year.

While those precious two starts are the reason fans are pumped up about Boulware’s ascension to defensive centerpiece, Venables is most encouraged by the T.L. Hanna product’s commitment during the week. He spoke well of Boulware’s constant desire to ask questions, referring to him as a puppy dog nipping at his superiors’ heels to learn all he can.

Only a couple months await to unleash Boulware the bulldog.

Friday: No. 10 DT D.J. Reader

Saturday: No. 9 C Ryan Norton

Sunday: No. 8 WR Mike Williams

Monday: No. 7 S Jayron Kearse

Tuesday: No. 6 LB Ben Boulware

Wednesday: No. 5