Not returning are three Tigers who played over 700 snaps each last season (Xavier Brewer, Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks) – and Clemson is welcoming eight freshman defensive backs, including two rated as top-100 players nationally (5-star CB Mackensie Alexander and 4-star S Jayron Kearse).
But despite the upheaval, Venables is more comfortable this year than last.
Having 3-year starter QB, problem spots
“I’m really excited. I like what we have,” he said. “A year ago, I was little uncertain – even in the spring, we were an incomplete group of players competing. To a certain degree, it stunted the growth. So what, we dealt with this.
“There’s an influx of talent that will push and motivate guys. We have returning experience and returning health.”
Veterans coming off injuries include senior cornerback Darius Robinson, who missed the final six games last season with a fractured ankle, and junior cornerback Martin Jenkins, who redshirted in 2012 due to a hernia injury.
Robinson, rated a four-star prospect out of high school, has played 700 career snaps with three picks and 33 tackles so far. Jenkins posted six pass breakups in a reserve role mainly in 2011, with 27 tackles.
Junior corners Garry Peters (522 career snaps/nine passes defended) and Bashaud Breeland (1,012 career snaps/nine passes defended) are two more upperclassmen fighting for a starting role, and Venables says he’s rooting for his vets to step up and earn the playing time.
“I hope they beat out all those freshman,” said Venables. “I do think we have a talented group of guys that maybe help us. At safety, we don’t have one guy that’s ever started at safety in a game on our entire roster.
“That’s scary, but again, I feel good because of the people that are going to show up come game time…That’s a group of young men that I trust. That stand for what’s right. That are selfless in attitude and have toughness.”
Taking over the safety spots are junior Robert Smith and sophomore Travis Blanks. Blanks started eight games and played 563 snaps at nickel, breaking up seven passes with one interception, while Smith is less seasoned with 104 career snaps.
“Robert’s played,” Venables said. “He’s been in big games at critical times. Travis has been as well. He had great success as a true freshman as a starter at our nickel position. He’s a guy that’s been invested every single day. Knowledge is very powerful and he gets it.”
Venables is asking a unit that lagged both in pass defense (71st) and pass efficiency defense (62nd) rankings last season just to bring it every play.
“Consistency, nobody has to be Superman. Just play like a division one player plays,” he said. “Compete like a division one player competes and prepare like a division one player prepares.
“Invest in your positioning and your career. Make an investment and show some maturity.”
What kind of consistency is Venables looking for?
“Do the little things the right way and do it every snap,” said Venables. “You don’t have to be Deion Sanders. Be competitive and be tough and tackle guys. Do it on a consistent level and you don’t have to plug all these leaks.”