Clemson is no stranger to having players transfer out of its football program. However, what the Tigers haven't experienced much of is a starting player deciding to leave.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2020 season, that is exactly what happened when it was announced that starting linebacker Mike Jones Jr. had entered the transfer portal. Just days later, he'd already decided on a destination, announcing a commitment to LSU.
Jones started seven of Clemson's 10 games last season, taking over at SAM, the position Isaiah Simmons had manned before being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals last year. It was a move that caught many off-guard and on the Tigers opening day of spring practice, head coach Dabo Swinney shed some light on the reasoning behind Jones' decision.
“Wants to move inside the box and this is just what he felt like was best for him,” Swinney said. “And again, my things always been about graduation. I think when a young man graduates, that’s what it’s all about. And if he’s ready for a different experience, then we wish him well."
Swinney said the the conversation that took place between himself and Jones went very smoothly.
“The conversation was great,” Swinney said. “I mean Mike is just an awesome kid and unbelievably committed and did a great job. He’s graduating in May and he just, I think, wants a little different experience.”
Jones' departure means the Tigers are now looking for a new starting SAM linebacker. After an impressive freshman campaign, Trenton Simpson will likely get every opportunity to step into that role.
"What he (Simpson) was able to do last year as a true freshman is pretty special," Swinney said. "I mean he's a unique talent and he got a ton of experience. He got his nose bloodied a lot, but it's gonna make him better. He's a special talent and he'll be a guy that you'll see, just like last year, he didn't just go play Nickel/SAM. He played in the box and he came off the edge, and we used him in a lot of ways. And that just was kind of the tip of the iceberg of what I think Trenton has the potential to do."