Summing up Clemson’s defensive performance during its first spring under new coordinator Brent Venables, Dabo Swinney got straight to the point:
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys competing because we’ve got a lot of guys understanding what to do.”
In other words, Swinney is getting exactly what he had hoped for, and more, when he swapped Kevin Steele’s more complex system for Venables’ simplified version, all while retaining the Tigers’ basic 4-3 framework.
“Great competition is a sign that they’re getting it,” said Swinney following the Tigers’ Orange-White spring game on Saturday. “It’s not like we’ve got just one or two out there who have figured it out. Our first two groups have a good understanding of what we’re trying to do. When you have that, it creates great competition.
“I’ve just been really pleased with the way they’ve handled our installation, and how it’s been taught.”
There were numerous encouraging signs on Saturday that the Tigers are ready to, as Swinney described it earlier this spring, “cut loose and play.”
Both the Orange and White defenses made rushing yardage hard to come by. The two teams combined for 127 net yards rushing on 68 attempts, though the total was diminished significantly by 60 yards in (easy to get) sack yardage.
With 52 passes completed by the two teams, defensive backs had inflated tackle totals. But the linebackers ran to the ball, made plays, and, for the most part, tackled securely.
Spencer Shuey and Justin Parker manned the middle linebacker spots in the absence of Stephone Anthony, and they completed for 17 stops. Shuey also had an interception. Tig Willard had six tackles, Corico Hawkins and B.J. Goodson had four each (with Goodson seeing action for both teams), while Lateek Townsend and Quandon Christian each had three.
Other standouts included Robert Smith, Martin Jenkins and Bashaud Breeland, who combined for 26 tackles for the White team, and Garry Peters, Cortez Davis and Xavier Brewer and Darius Robinson, who combined to make 20 stops for the Orange.
Peters picked off a pass and had a PBU, Jonathan Meeks intercepted two passes, and Grady Jarrett was the top performer up front, with six tackles, including a pair of sacks. Vic Beasley showed his promise as an edge-rushing defensive end by beating his blocker off the ball for a pair of sacks.
Overall, Swinney was pleased by what he saw.
“We didn’t want to put more in than they can handle,” Swinney said. “We want to just get good at containing the ball, being gap-sound, and just not let people run loose behind us. And then we’ve worked hard on the tackling aspect. We still have a lot of improving to do, but I’m very encouraged.
“I think (Venables) has done a great job, and so have Marion (Hobby), Cheese (Charlie Harbison) and Dan (Brooks).”