Clemson has a defense filled with freak athletes, from 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who made a tackle for loss while playing safety in the spring game, to 6-foot-4, 250-pound linebacker Tre Lamar, who always seems to be around the football and delivers a pounding when he gets there.
Senior Jalen Williams is not one of the players on Clemson’s defense who is intimidating getting off the bus.
Williams is an undersized linebacker at 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, but he is also an important piece of the Tigers' defense.
“Jalen’s been a steady player for us, really since he got here,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s smart. That’s one of the reasons we recruited him. He obviously doesn’t have some of the measurables that you run out and jump up and down for; he’s just a heck of a football player.”
Williams has been contributing at Clemson since he stepped on campus, despite being rated as a two-star prospect coming out of Blythewood High School.
He played in all 15 games as a freshman as Clemson reached the national title game, and he made 24 tackles and started one game in 2016, helping the Tigers to the national title.
Williams has 57 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss so far in his career. He has thrived on special teams and been an important backup linebacker who is always ready when his name is called.
“He’s tough, plays faster than he is because he’s got good instincts and anticipates. He had a good spring,” Swinney said. “He’s been a special teams guy for us and a very good utility player that can play, really, all three positions if we need him to. We’ve really kind of hung him in there at that SAM position and he’s done a good job.”
Clemson has a hole to fill at the SAM linebacker spot with Dorian O’Daniel graduating and moving on to the NFL, and Williams is doing everything he can to earn that starting role. He is in a battle with converted safety Isaiah Simmons for the starting job.
The two will likely both receive plenty of playing time this season.
“It’s definitely a chip I’ve got on my shoulder and that’s why I’ve got to come out every day and compete because I know it’s a business. They’re always trying to improve to get the next best guy here, and if the next best guy can play, then that’s what they’re going to do,” Williams said. “So that’s why I just try to spend time on my game, little techniques, give effort, come out here and work out a little bit. Like I said, it’s a business. They’re trying to get the next person in. Next person out.”
Williams believes he is ready to be an every-down linebacker in 2018, and he is hoping to prove that during fall camp.
He has areas he wants to improve between now and the start of the 2018 season, and he has his sights set on having a breakout year.
“It’s my last year. I’m super motivated. After this, it’s nothing. I don’t want football to end here for me, so as far as getting to the next level, you’ve got to perform well here first,” Williams said. “I want to improve my man coverage, understanding how to play the nickel. I’ve got to be a lockdown guy. There’s a lot of teams, they put their best receiver right there in the slot. So to be able to run around with them guys and understand the defense as a whole so I can be able to help the guys out around (is my goal)."