Linebackers likely to make an instant impact: Clemson's incoming freshmen have adapted to new style of play

Tony Steward was one of two prized recuits expected to make an immediate impact on the Clemson defensive line.

CLEMSON -- College football is no longer a game for the traditional run-stuffing, two-down linebacker.

Spread offenses that feature multiple wide receivers have proliferated throughout the game and, in certain situations, have forced one or more linebackers either off the field for extra defensive backs or to cover quicker, faster receivers.

But arriving at Clemson this summer is a pair of five-star rated linebackers who appear well suited for today's brand of football. Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward are two of Clemson's signing day prizes, rated by some analysts as two of the top-five linebackers in the 2011 recruiting class. They have the potential to play on all downs against all formations, according to analysts and their high school coaches.

"It used to be you'd have linebackers sit near the line of scrimmage and make tackles against the wishbone," Anson High School (N.C.) coach Luke Hyatt said. "With the evolution of football, with the way it's going last 10 years, you have to recruit kids that can cover man-up. (Anthony) brings that. He has the ability to not only be where he should be but he's also a student of the game that can recognize formations."

ESPN's analysts wrote this about Anthony, who recorded a school- record 20 interceptions at Anson: "Anthony is a turnover machine with his tremendous versatility and ball-hawking skills. Possesses the size and great athleticism we like to see for the outside linebacker position at the major level of competition."

Steward is nearly as impressive as Anthony in coverage, according to his high school coach.

"The most amazing thing was his junior year he caught back-to-back interceptions and returned them for touchdowns," Pedro Menendez (Fla.) High School coach Keith Cromwell said. "This year he played nearly every position over the course of the season. We had him play quarterback in the Wildcat. He threw a touchdown, he returned a kick for a touchdown."

The players also have the potential to be impact defenders against the run and influence the game as pass rushers. That's where most of their highlights are.

ESPN analysts wrote that Stewart is an all-around difference maker: "Steward is a dominant player displaying excellent athleticism and playing speed. ... This a very flexible athlete who exhibits the quickness, burst and balance necessary to be effective from any spot on the field vs. both the run and pass."

Steward is 6-3, 230 and "getting stronger, bigger every day," according to Cromwell.

"He has the best DNA you could ever get," Cromwell said. "Without a doubt, in three to four years he'll be a first-round draft choice. I say that because a lot of these high school kids that are awesome go to college and are the same as everyone ... Tony is the kind of kid that every single time he steps on the field, he gets better."

Cromwell believes Steward, who is recovering from a torn ACL last November, will be ready for Clemson's camp on Aug. 5.

Both Steward and Anthony are expected to play and make an impact this fall.