CLEMSON — With two and a half weeks left before Clemson opens the 2012 season against Auburn, Brent Venables says his new defense “has a long way to go.”
That doesn’t mean he’s unhappy with his unit’s progress, though.
His defense forced six turnovers in a scrimmage Wednesday, and has held its own against the Tigers’ high-powered offense.
“I’m really pleased with their attitude, but there’s a refinement that needs to make place,” he said. “Hopefully that happens over the course of the year, there’s unfamiliarity to what we do. I still don’t know how our players are going to respond when it comes to game day.
“I still don’t know how they’ll respond to 85,000 people and being on the road and all those types of things. Still a lot of unknowns. I’m excited. They’ve got the makings to have a very good defense. It’s a matter of putting it into work and continuing to improve on the fundamentals and technique.”
With just over two weeks of practice left, Venables admits Clemson “needs to get better real fast”, but is happy with how his new players have bought in.
“I’m pleased with the progress about our guys,” he said. “We’re finding out what they can do real well and trying to get a little bit better every day in every aspect. It’s attitude, communication, consistency, both against the running game and the throwing game. It’s leveraging the football, getting guys in the best spots to have success.”
Freshman defensive tackles D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins have both been impressive thus far. They’re still behind sophomores Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson, but both could see significant playing time this fall.
“They’ve been a, quote unquote, pleasant surprise to see where they’re at this point,” he said. “There’s some pulling depth there. They lack experience but both have physical maturity, ability to move their feet, leverage and move their hands well. That’s been pleasing.”
A year ago, Clemson allowed 29.3 points per game, a major reason why defensive coordinator Kevin Steele left the staff in January.
Venables said he’s focusing on improving scoring defense by, of course, improving the all-around defense.
“The No.1 stat in football is scoring defense,” he said. “It’s a big thing we’re emphasizing, not letting people score and improving on red zone defense. If you hold teams to 17 points or less, you’ll be a top-10 (scoring defense) team but it’s relative to the style of teams you play.
“Some conferences are going to grind it out, others teams are highly skilled with a precision quarterback. Bottom line, you’ve got to play good defense, got to be physical, can’t let them run the football on you, can’t give up big plays. That’s what I’m looking for.”