CLEMSON — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has already let the world know the group that he expects to be the biggest surprise this season is coached by defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
But when Venables was asked during media day this past week about the Tigers' depth at the linebacker position, he quickly pointed out that the recently released roster was "not accurate."
"I mean, I really like the group. I think it'll be undervalued," Venables said. "I think they put a depth chart out that's not real accurate right now. For whatever reason, it's not. We've got depth. We've got guys that can run and hit and that can think and got instincts and got toughness."
It is not that the Tigers do not have an incredible amount of depth at linebacker that drew the ire of Venables. According to Swinney, the back seven of the 2019 Tigers could be the best of his tenure. Instead, Venables said he has a bevy of linebackers bouncing all over the field, and it's too early for him to determine precise player placements on the roster.
"Chad Smith's at Will (weakside linebacker). (Jamie) Skalski's at Mike (middle linebacker). Baylon (Spector) (and) Mike Jones are playing over there at the Will (weakside linebacker)," Venables said. "Mike's also playing at Sam (strongside linebacker). Jake (Venables) and Kane (Patterson) are at Mike linebacker.
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"Regan Upshaw's been hurt for awhile now. We'll see if he's ready to go. LaVonta Bentley's working at Will linebacker, and then Keith Maguire's ... I'm kind of moving him around. Feel like he can do a little bit of everything. (Bryton) Constantine is coming off of an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament injury). That's what's not accurate."
Regardless of how he feels about the depth chart, there is little doubt about how he feels about his group of linebackers.
"I really like the group. I think it's a strong leadership position force," Venables said. "Guys that have played a lot of winning football between Isaiah Simmons, Chad Smith and Jamie Skalski. Baylon Spector really showed signs of transitioning well, just as a special teams player a year ago, can really run and can hit and really smart. Then you've got other guys like Mike Jones and Jake Venables, and this group of freshmen that are coming in as well, that we really feel good about. Their size, athletic ability, speed, instincts — they're gonna have to help us."
While many around the coaching staff are singing the praises of the Tiger linebackers, Venables is not wasting any time worrying about whether this is the best group that he has coached since arriving at Clemson in 2012.
Instead, he is focused on developing the players that he has to give the Tigers the best chance to win games.
"A year from now, we're going to lose two-thirds of that starting group again," Venables said. "So between this year's recruiting class and the 2020 recruiting class, it's going to be real critical to building our defense for the future. This is a group of guys that I feel really good about.
"I spend no time wondering if it's the best one we've had or things like that," he said. "You understand where your strengths are. You try to play to those strengths, try to protect your weaknesses, help guys grow up, really strain them, find out what they're capable of and develop them. I like the group of guys that we've got, though."