"We're going to be a much better defense this year - I'm expecting us to be pretty good on defense," said Swinney after the Tigers' first practice. "We were pretty good the first two years on defense. We took a slide back in '11, but then pretty much took all those numbers back in the positive direction this past year.
"We've got some guys who just played through a whole season who were freshmen and sophomores, with a lot of experience and competition. I know our linebacker group is going to be outstanding.
"The big area for us is going to be the secondary. It's been fun having Mike (Reed) join our staff. He's done a great job and brings a lot of energy to us and the guys have bought in."
The players' familiarity with Venables, and vice versa, is part of the reason for Swinney's optimism.
"This time last year, literally, Brent didn't know anybody," Swinney said. "He was trying to learn people and get the chemistry right. We're way, way ahead of where we were last year.
"Plus, we're way, way ahead, system-wise. It's fun. You can really talk football as opposed to scheme, and 'this is the formation, line up here' and that kind of stuff. We're doing that with the younger guys, but the older guys are way beyond that."
Another reason for confidence is what Swinney and Venables saw happen in the Tigers' Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU, in which Clemson's front four consistently won battles against one of the nation's better offensive lines.
"When you have guys beating guys one-on-one and you know what that does to an offense, it helps a lot," Venables said. "You saw that in the LSU game, with them playing behind the chains on second down because guys were beating guys on first and 10. It makes a big difference. Hopefully that will develop in the spring...Against great teams, you have to be able to do that."
Swinney said that although the Tigers are shorthanded at defensive back this spring, they can lay a foundation for the fall.
"Our objective is to take this group and come out of spring with these guys being confident, and then ramp it up this summer when that other posse gets here," said Swinney. "The competition is going to change the whole makeup of that position."
Joining enrolling freshman Jadar Johnson this summer will defensive back signees Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Adrian Baker, Korrin Wiggins, Marcus Edmond, Cordrea Tankersley, Ryan Carter and T.J. Green.