CLEMSON — As the “camp” portion of Clemson’s preseason practice drew to a close Tuesday, defensive coordinator Brent Venables said his unit remained “a work in progress.”
“We’ve still got a lot of work ahead,” Venables said. “The next 10 days will be critical. It’ll be a process all year long. We’ve got to continue to get better, improve on little things. It’s a process that requires daily investment, it’s not going to happen overnight. But I like the mindset of our guys, the work they’ve put in, the willingness to focus and prepare.”
Depth remains an issue. Venables said he’s comfortable with 11-15 defenders right now.
“Each position is going to have a couple of swing guys,” he said. “It might fluctuate a few guys here and there. We’ll see how guys perform in practice, and early in the game. Maybe they’ll get in the game and they’re not ready for the moment and they don’t see a whole lot more. They determine that, not me.”
That’s nothing new for him, though. Venables said he coached one season at Kansas State where the same 11 players played the entire game, with no rotation.
“We didn’t really rotate anyone,” he said. “We didn’t have enough good ones to do it.”
Sophomore linebacker Tony Steward, coming off his second ACL tear in as many years, remains a wild card. Steward is the No.3 “Will” linebacker behind seniors Corico Wright and Jonathan Willard, and redshirting remains an option for him, Venables said.
“I don't know whether he wants to do that or not. So we'll see. We have a little window here to try to kind of figure those things out. It's definitely on the table.”
“Those seniors know what to do all the time, they’re sure of themselves, and Tony is still working back both mentally and physically,” he said. “I’ve been very pleased with him.”
Junior cornerback Martin Jenkins is also likely to redshirt with groin and hip flexor issues, leaving corner depth, in Venables’ words, “not very good.”
At defensive tackle, Venables said sophomores Josh Watson, DeShawn Williams and Grady Jarrett will rotate at both slots, with freshmen D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins also seeing significant time.
At defensive end, senior Malliciah Goodman and sophomore Tavaris Barnes will be at strongside, with sophomores Corey Crawford and Vic Beasley working at bandit end.
Would I rather have more experienced depth? The lack of experience is a little concerning about how they’ll react, play, fight through the elements,” he said. “But I like the mindset, I like what I’ve seen in practice, and I’m excited to see them go have the opportunity to do it now.”
At cornerback, sophomore Bashaud Breeland and junior Darius Robinson are starting; Venables said the depth behind them was “not good,” with sophomore Garry Peters in the mix. Redshirt freshman Cortez Davis, he said, “has a ways to go.”
Senior Xavier Brewer is working both corner and safety, with seniors Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks starting. Sophomore Robert Smith will also see playing time.
“We’ll have some guys who’ll have their opportunity, sooner or later, to show what they can do,” he said.
Hall, returning from offseason microfracture surgery on his knee, looks good, Venables said.
“I wouldn’t call him rusty. Something better than rusty, he’s pretty good,” he said. “ Ask him. His mental thing, learning and fitting, he’s such a perfectionist. He wants to know, soak up knowledge.”