CLEMSON, S.C. -- The mouse went back and forth in Keith Adams' hand then suddenly ceased its clicking with a startling find.
Adams proved he is just as adept perusing the information superhighway as tracking down opposing ball carriers. On Monday, Clemson's inside linebacker discovered he was the Atlantic Coast Conference's defensive lineman of the week during a casual search of the Internet.
"It was a shock," Adams said.
Astonished by the unexpected distinction, Adams was gratified the Tigers' linebacking corps has dropped its preseason label of being young and inexperienced.
In addition to Adams' accolade, outside linebacker Braxton K. Williams was named the ACC's defensive back of the week for his role in Clemson's 33-14 victory over No. 22 Virginia.
Following a 3-8 1998 season in which three Tigers linebackers were selected in the NFL draft, it was apparent Tommy Bowden's linebacking unit would be tested. Three sophomores assumed starting roles without prior experience.
"None of us started before and there's always going to be question marks," said sophomore middle linebacker Chad Carson. "We need to go out and show we're good linebackers. We don't want to be the weak part of the defense, we want to be the strong part even though we're young."
Adams directs this proud band of sophomores. The 5-foot-11, 203-pound College Park, Ga. native had 16 tackles, including four for loss against Virginia.
As the veteran of the crew, Adams understands the critical role his unit is responsible for. He was on the field for 176 plays in 1998 and acts instinctively when attacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run or dropping back in coverage.
The legacy for producing NFL-caliber linebackers is legendary at Clemson. Adams is familiar with those who preceded him and what is expected of players who comprise the Tigers' linebacking corps.
"Clemson is one of the top linebacking schools in the country," Adams said. "They're not really going to recruit you if they don't think you can go out and get the job done. We have confidence in ourselves."
Batesburg-Leesville native Ed McDaniel, Anthony Simmons, Johnny Rembert and Levon Kirkland all excelled as Clemson linebackers. This year's crop may not be ready for the next level yet but it is responsible for four of Clemson's ACC-leading nine quarterback sacks.
The Tigers have surrendered just 27 points this season and have registered 19 tackles for loss. Adams leads the conference with seven tackles for loss including four against the Cavaliers.
Maintaining their new-found respect will require consistency. Adams claims the mental mistakes made in the season-opening loss to Marshall have been eliminated and the defense has developed chemistry.
"We work as one nucleus together," Adams said. "We see the improvement every week."
Williams earned his ACC honor by recording nine tackles, forcing a fumble and making a spectacular play to thwart a Virginia scoring attempt. In the second quarter, Cavalier running back Thomas Jones fumbled near the Clemson sidelines.
As the ball made its way out of bounds, Williams made a diving stab at it and kept it inside the white lines where it was recovered by the Tigers on their own 15-yard line. Williams' effort symbolizes the Clemson linebacking unit's commitment to making plays regardless of its experience.
Carson accepts the pressure of maintaining Clemson's linebacking heritage without excuses.
"There's always that expectation that if you come here, you need to be a big-time linebacker," said Carson, who had 14 tackles against Virginia. "It's kind of fun to live up to those expectations."
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3216.
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