CLEMSON — Brent Venables is a mix of excitement and apprehension this week. Clemson’s new defensive coordinator is preparing for his first game guiding the Tigers’ defense, with a matchup against Auburn and new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler only complicating his preparation.
Venables talked with reporters Tuesday about preparing for Loeffler, his defense’s focus and players who had impressed him during preseason.
On Loeffler: “He has a very extensive background. He’s been a number of places and he emphasizes the desire to run the football, do it a lot of different types of ways. He has a system that can run the quarterback, dive backs, run the power and counter game and run all that off a strong play-action game. He’s been spread, he’s been three tights and two backs, very extensive, very multiple. You try and find a happy medium of what they do, the bread and butter, balance, and go from there.”
On preparing for new Auburn starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier: “I prepare for a system. He’s a big, strongly, athletic, highly-recruited, talented guy. He’s got a big arm. I think it goes without saying they featured him in more of a quarterback running system last year. I’m very aware of Frazier. Coming out of high school, just a state away at Oklahoma, we had recruited him. He’s got a very live arm and he’s still a young guy that they feel very strongly about to give him the start over (Clint) Moseley. I expect a steady dose of both he and their backs. They’ve got terrific skill guys to surround him with at receiver and tight end. A very talented offensive line as well.”
On preparing for a new center following Auburn’s suspension of freshman All-America Reese Dismukes: “ I’ve got my own problems. We’ve got a bunch of young guys, too, who haven’t played, haven’t been starters full-time. I’d be a hypocrite if all of a sudden I said I was worried about the opponent as much as you’ve got to worry about yourself and make sure guys understand what they need to do – play with toughness and discipline and just get lined up and be consistent. Not try to do too much. We’re not built for attacking one particular guy right now. We’re trying to build a system here and let guys complement one another.”
On Quandon Christian: “ I think he’s approached the practice field with a greater sense of urgency, that’s the biggest thing he’s done, the most profound thing I’ve seen him to. I’ve seen him have a little more focus. I’m still getting to know all these guys. That’s not an indictment. That’s something he’d be willing to admit, that he needed to take a better attitude, a better approach.”
How realistic is it that you’ll give all your players passing grades after this game?: “Probably not very realistic. I’m not naïve enough to believe it. There’ll be some good, there’ll be some bad. That’s what this season is about. The best teams I’ve had have gotten better over the course of the year. You find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Gameday is part of that process. Putting guys in the right spots, hopefully we’ve been able to identify that but maybe after the first game it isn’t what you thought it was. Hopefully at the end of the day there’ll be more passing grades than not. That means you played well. You want to see your guys play with great discipline, toughness and effort. You have that you have a strong foundation.”
On players like Travis Blanks who can play linebacker or nickel back: “Anytime you have that, it’s depth. You have guys who are hybrids who can do multiple things. You want to get good at a few things instead of average at a lot. It takes a lot mentally and physically to do that, so you like that type of flexibility.”
On players who took a major step forward in August: “That’s hard to single out any one guy. I like the toughness and fight of our inside players. And Vic Beasley has, every scrimmage, done things that are awfully good. Our corners have been very consistent through spring and carried that over through fall camp. Really like the safeties we have. I’ve been pleased with those guys.”
On defensive strengths: “ I think it’s a collective group of our 11 starters. I wouldn’t say there’s any one strength. Whether it’s one position group or player over another, I think collectively they’ve shown the propensity to play well together and what their roles are, just the discipline that it takes. That’s probably a strength more than anything.”
Do you feel wired up and ready to get on the field? “I’m no different than ever. I value and respect the process more than anyone. I look forward to practice. I know the value of it and understand it. If our guys don’t show up today, we’ll be behind the eight-ball Saturday night. I think I have a sense of urgency. Gameday will be here soon enough. I’m excited like everyone, but I have a process to get ready for the game.”
Your mission for the final two days of practice: “You name it, man. Just get more confidence in what we’re doing, assuredness, there’s a lot to look at and prepare for. That first game, there’s so much unknown that it’s hard to identify an exact DNA. Whether it’s of a playcaller, situations, or how they utilize their own personnel, you don’t quite know yet. You could say the same thing about us. As excited as you are about playing against a team like Auburn, you might want to open up against a I-AA and find out what you’re made of. Same time, flip side of it, they’re probably thinking the exact same thing.
Clemson is a very talented football team, explosive and capable of beating anyone on their schedule.”
On identifying the DNA of a playcaller: “You have things that will travel, consistency, whether it’s different stops or game to game, things that will always show. Situations, personnel, plays.
What did you see in (Scot Loeffler’s) Temple offense: “Physical, tough, very well-coached. Downhill, move the pocket. That’s not all coach-speak, because we’re not playing Temple. They did a great job there, played well above their talent, did a great job and got more out of less. Physical as much as anything.”
On the safety rotation: “You’d like to feel you can play (Xavier Brewer, Jonathan Meeks and Rashard Hall) until they prove otherwise. I think they’ve shown us they can all play winning football. Hopefully that’s a good thing, that’s how we’ll look at it going into this week.”
What did Tig Willard do to get the edge at “Will” linebacker: Just more consistency. That’s the biggest thing. We let it go a couple scrimmages, a couple mini-scrimmages, and he just showed a high level of consistency.”