NCF Nation: Kellen Jones

Transfers to watch in the ACC

June, 11, 2013
Freshmen are not the only players with an opportunity to make an immediate impact in the ACC this season. Let's not forget about several transfer players now eligible and ready to make their own mark.

Here is a look at the top eligible transfers in the league with the most potential to turn some heads:

Drew Allen, QB, Syracuse. The Orange actually have three transfers eligible this year -- receiver Quinta Funderburk and defensive tackle John Raymon are the other two. But neither are listed as a starter on the post-spring depth chart. Allen isn't either, but he hasn't yet had an opportunity to show what he can do. Allen will arrive in time for fall practice after deciding to come in from Oklahoma. He has immediate eligibility, and joins the mix to win the starting quarterback job with Terrel Hunt and Charley Loeb his primary competition.

Kellen Jones, LB, Clemson. We all know the Tigers need some help on defense, and they are hoping Jones fits the bill. Jones transferred from Oklahoma and sat out last season because of NCAA rules. During his time at Clemson, Jones has learned all three linebacker spots in order to make himself much more valuable to the team. He is athletic and familiar with coordinator Brent Venables from their time with the Sooners. If he's as good as coaches expect him to be, Clemson's D should be better.

Deon Long, WR, Maryland. The Terps already were expecting an immediate contribution from Long, a junior college transfer who began his career at New Mexico. But you can bet expectations will be even higher now that second-leading receiver Marcus Leak has left the team for personal reasons.

Brandon Mitchell OR Pete Thomas, QBs, NC State. Mitchell is in a similar spot to Allen -- he has immediate eligibility this season for the Wolfpack after transferring in from Arkansas and joins an open quarterback competition. Thomas himself transferred in last year but had to sit out a season because of NCAA rules. In that season, the head coach and offensive style changed, so his pro-style gifts do not necessarily match what Dave Doeren wants to do. Still, Thomas showed some flashes this spring though Doeren is reluctant to give anybody the edge just yet. With Mitchell now joining Thomas and Manny Stocker in the mix, it's anybody's guess who will start the opener.

Pat O'Donnell, P, Miami. Scoff if you must, but O'Donnell is a terrific punter and a workout warrior, and fills a gaping hole on the Hurricanes' roster. Miami may return nearly all its starters on offense and defense, but not on special teams, where the Hurricanes have to replace both punter Dalton Botts and kicker Jake Wieclaw. Getting a punter the caliber of O'Donnell, who transferred from Cincinnati and is immediately eligible, helps ease a big concern.

Matt Patchan, OL, Boston College. The Eagles need major help on the offensive line and could get it in the form of Patchan, who has immediate eligibility after transferring in from Florida. He will be available for fall practice. The only issue to keep in mind is he has been injury prone for his entire career.

Tom Savage, QB, Pitt. It's been a long road back to the football field for Savage, who transferred twice after leaving Rutgers in 2010. Now here he is with one season of eligibility remaining and an opportunity to win the starting job. Though coach Paul Chryst has yet to declare a starter, Savage at least has starting experience. Still, he and Chad Voytik remain in an open competition headed into fall practice. Another Pitt player to watch: Wisconsin transfer tight end Manasseh Garner.
It’s time for Clemson fans to be reintroduced to the 2011 recruiting class -- a class that was highlighted by the two best high school linebackers in the country.

Clemson’s 2011 recruiting class drew rave reviews for the signatures of Tony Steward, the No. 1 inside linebacker in the country, and Stephone Anthony, the No. 1 outside linebacker in the class.

This could be the year Clemson’s linebackers finally make headlines again.

Steward is entering his third season in the program, but as far as defensive coordinator Brent Venables is concerned, Steward is still a freshman. Because of back-to-back ACL injuries, Steward has yet to have an opportunity to show why he was such a highly touted recruit. This year should be different -- not only for Steward, but for the entire group of linebackers, which is expected to be the highlight of Clemson’s defense this year. It’s a deep and talented group that is still relatively unknown, but could produce some household names -- and reintroduce a few others like Steward -- this fall.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Shuey
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSpencer Shuey, left, is part of a Clemson linebacking unit that coordinator Brent Venables is expecting to lead an improved defense this coming season.
“It took us a little while to get settled in, but just gaining the experience, coming back from last year, we’ve got guys that are athletic, they’re disruptive, guys who can run, strike and also have a good grasp of what we’re doing,” said Venables, who is entering his second season as the Tigers’ coordinator. “We’ve got good chemistry in that group. We’ve got good quality depth, guys that probably haven’t been on the field much, but we feel good about regardless, guys like Tony Steward and Kellen Jones.

“They’ll be the leaders on our defense,” Venables said of the linebackers. “The guys have great respect for them, they all like to work, they’ve got a good chemistry about them, as well as ability.”

Clemson’s defense must replace 2012 leading tackler Tig Willard, arguably the most consistent linebacker on the team, who had 95 stops and a team-best 10.5 tackles for loss. There are plenty of options, though, and Venables began preparing them for the opportunity last November, as he rotated at least nine linebackers for about 8-15 snaps each over the course of the final three or four games.

This season, senior Spencer Shuey returns as the team’s leading tackler, and he’s a player who quietly improved and became a major contributor last year. Shuey had just 17 tackles over the first five games of 2012, but he finished the season with 93 tackles -- not bad, considering Willard played 181 more snaps over the course of the season. Venables said Shuey is a very instinctive player who “plays faster than he probably tests,” takes the right angles, doesn’t make mistakes, anticipates plays, and is smart enough that he can keep pace with some of the more athletic opponents.

“He’s invaluable,” Venables said. “When he’s out there, we play well.”

Clemson has only six starters returning on defense, and just two of the top six tacklers return, but Venables said he is confident in the depth and talent that returns at linebacker to anchor the defense.

Anthony had 77 tackles in just 459 snaps, an average of a tackle every six plays. Senior Quandon Christian also has significant experience. He started seven games last season, and had 40 tackles in 447 plays. He was a big factor in midseason wins against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech with 14 combined tackles. The staff is also excited about Jones, a transfer from Oklahoma.

B.J. Goodson is another option from the 2011 class. He was rated the No. 29 outside linebacker that year. He is big, strong, instinctive, and can play fast. Steward has made the most of the few opportunities he has had. He had 26 tackles last season, including a team-best 12 on special teams. He averaged a tackle every 5.2 plays on defensive scrimmage plays.

“I really feel good about his improvement and his understanding and just getting his strength and explosiveness back and understanding what we’re doing,” Venables said. “I’ve had a number of guys in the years I’ve coached who have torn their knees up, and it takes one solid year to get back to whatever they were prior to the injury, and he had back-to-back injuries without ever really having any kind of foundation here in college. It’s just maturity and understanding, experience and playing, but to me he’s like a freshman. It’s unfortunate. He wanted to play last year, was the consummate optimist. But that’s water under the bridge now. Hopefully some of the experience he’s able to gain will pay off.”

Just like Clemson fans expected it would in 2011.
Former Oklahoma linebacker Kellen Jones will transfer to Clemson, according to

Jones notched 10 tackles last season with the Sooners under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who was hired for the same position by the Tigers this season.

A three-star prospect coming out of St. Pius X (Houston) in 2011, Jones originally signed with Michigan last February before enrolling at Oklahoma in August. He saw action in 12 games with the Sooners as a true freshman.

Jones, who said the new transfer was not based on Venables' move to Clemson, will have to sit out this season but has three years of eligibility remaining, beginning in 2013.
"It was a family connection," Jones told "I liked the tradition, the atmosphere and the coaches."

Venables, meanwhile, is listed by colleague Travis Haney as one of the nation's five key coordinator hires for the upcoming season, as he replaces Kevin Steele.
Those familiar with Clemson have said Steele likely would not have been retained, even before the Orange Bowl debacle -- but giving up 70 points to West Virginia sealed the deal. Steele and Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney clashed over Chad Morris' new uptempo offense and how it affected the defense's stamina. Less time on the field for the offense means more time for the defense. Steele was not a fan.

That made Venables a perfect fit to replace him, since he had been working in concert with a fast-paced offense at Oklahoma since teaming up with Bob Stoops -- and then-coordinator Mike Leach -- in 1999.

Venables has talked this spring about a desire to return to fundamentals, sensing that basics, such as tackling, were lacking at Clemson. He has a young unit -- 13 freshmen or sophomores were on the two-deep, as of the middle of spring ball -- but one with athletic potential. For a team that gave up 30 or more points in half of its games last season, there is certainly room for improvement.

Michigan recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011

The class

Recruits: 20 (all high school seniors, one player enrolled early)

Top prospects: Four-star defensive backs Blake Countess and Delonte Hollowell could provide immediate help to a secondary that needs it in 2011. The Wolverines addressed their defensive front seven with Brennen Beyer, rated as the nation's No. 24 defensive end by ESPN Recruiting, as well as linebacker Kellen Jones. Although Michigan lost running back commit Dee Hart to Alabama, the Wolverines held onto Justice Hayes, who rates as the nation's No. 22 running back.

Needs met: Anyone who watched Michigan last season could identify the secondary as a glaring need, and the Wolverines addressed it with five defensive backs, including the nation's No. 14 and No. 15 cornerbacks in Countess and Hallowell. Field goals were an adventure in 2010 and Michigan wisely added kicker Matt Wile. Defensive line also was a need, especially with Michigan transitioning to the 4-3, and players like Beyer help.

Analysis: Coach Brady Hoke and his staff deserve a lot of credit for keeping several key verbal commits on board and making some late additions to the class despite taking over the program less than a month before signing day. From a ratings standpoint, this class won't go down as one of Michigan's best, but the late coaching change didn't hurt the Wolverines as much as it could have. Michigan needs several of the defensive recruits to blossom right away, especially in the secondary. Hayes and Wile also are players who could make an early impact.

ESPN Recruiting grade: B-