CLEMSON — With three practices left in his first spring at Clemson, Brent Venables knows his defense has made progress.
He also knows much work lies ahead.
When asked where the Tigers’ defense must improve following Monday’s scrimmage, Clemson’s new defensive coordinator replied, “Consistency. Everything.”
Most of the issues Venables seems most concerned with are intangibles, but not all of them.
There are many little things that the Tigers need to work on this week – and this summer – to reach the level he desires this fall.
“From communication, to technique, to positioning to pad level, to being physical to being edge with the mentality you want to win every rep in practice, having that type of respect for the game,” he said. “I want them to like to come to practice, want them to like to seek knowledge in the meeting room. Want them to build and enhance and improve our culture, how we act think and lead in this program.”
Venables was hired to raise the level of a defense seemingly confused by Kevin Steele’s complex, pro-style schemes, as well as spread offenses.
The Tigers faded defensively down the stretch of the 2011 season, with the nadir a 70-33 Orange Bowl shellacking at West Virginia’s hands. A week later, Steele and Clemson agreed to part ways, with Venables hired a few days later.
This spring, he has installed a simpler scheme which relies less on pre-snap reads and more on instinctual play.
Venables says his unit’s level of expectation “needs to be high,” and he expects toughness.
“We’ve got to be very demanding of ourselves,” he said. “There’s a lot that entails. I want our guys to play with some attitude. That comes from knowledge, and that’s where you get your confidence to practice. Guys learn to respect the game and practice and process of how you play well individually and collectively. Nobody needs to be Superman, you just need to do your job, do it well and every play. Getting our guys to play with that sense of desperation every play is critical.”
Monday’s scrimmage got mixed reviews. The first-team defense intercepted Tajh Boyd on the first two series, but struggled at times in goal-line situations.
“I think three-fourths of our guys were really ready to practice, on edge and performed very well, but there were situations where they were very inconsistent,” he said. “I was pleased with a good portion of it. There were some correctable things to finish, got divided a couple times. We’ve got to finish, have a little more maturity to handle some of those situations better. Just a better awareness in some of the situationals.”
One of the biggest areas of focus this spring has been the linebackers, a sore spot under Steele. Although sophomore Stephone Anthony will miss the final week of practice following a finger injury, he has solidified himself in the middle (reserve Spencer Shuey will replace him this week). Former MLB starter Corico Hawkins is competing with fellow senior Tig Willard at “Will” while junior Quandon Christian is the starter at “Sam”.
Among reserves, former four-star signee Justin Parker has impressed Venables while working at both middle and “Will” positions.
“I think they’ve definitely improved in their knowledge, their fundamentals and technique and understanding of what they’re doing,” he said of his linebackers. “We’re still a work in progress, got a lot to improve at, but I’m pleased with the attitude and the improvement that we have made.”
The same could be said for his defense as a whole.