It might not sound like the most positive compliment in the world, but when a football coach credits a player for being consistent, it means something.
That’s why when Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables praised nickel/SAM linebacker Dorian O’Daniel for being just that last spring, it made the fifth-year senior take notice.
“When you’re consistent, that means you’re focused, you know what to do, you know your job, you know your alignment, you know your assignment,” O’Daniel recently said. “To execute it at a high level is what any coach is looking for.”
Where has that drive for consistency gotten O’Daniel? Coach Dabo Swinney recently gave some of the highest praise possible on a team ranked in the top five nationally and expected to defend its title well in 2017.
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“Dorian O’Daniel is probably as good as any player that we’ve got on the team,” Swinney said. “He is a really good football player, playing at a high level, playing fast, physical. He’s confident. It’s so much fun to watch him excel like he is right now.”
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Olney, Md., native isn’t on any award watch lists. He wasn’t one of five Tigers named preseason All-ACC last month.
But that could change when postseason honors are handed out.
Swinney said O’Daniel, who’s penciled in as a starter in 2017, has developed a better work ethic, which he believes is the reason why the coaches are so high on him now.
“I feel like I’ve got something to prove,” said O’Daniel, who earned his degree and graduated Friday. “Every year there’s been some gray area with my play, and this year I don’t want to leave any doubt.”
That sense of urgency led to extra time in the indoor facility over the summer, when the coaches aren’t watching. O’Daniel says he’s heard people question whether he’s a true linebacker or whether he’s good enough in coverage, so that was his emphasis over the summer.
“It’s go big or go home at this point. It’s my last season,” O’Daniel said. “I want to capitalize and finish strong. I took my offseason real serious, a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation and bringing my teammates along with me.”
That last area is one the coaches have seen much progress. O’Daniel has stepped into more of a leadership role. To do that, you have to be consistent.
O’Daniel says he doesn’t know where he’d be without that redshirt season in 2013. He started out at as a talented special teams performer, finishing with 28 total tackles and one sack in 2014.
In 2015, his defensive role increased, leading to 36 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss.
A year ago, when Clemson won the national championship, O’Daniel started 10 games and played nearly 480 snaps. He finished sixth on the team with 56 tackles, and he added 10 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles.
“Really had a good three-fourths of the year,” Venables said. “It’s picked up. He’s really done a good job leading and knowing what to do, performing, competing, being a detailed guy.”