Wait-and-see: Venables sees Tiger defense as incomplete work in progress

'I'd say there's a lot more clarity up front and a lot more uncertainty in back than there was a year ago'

Clemson's Robert Smith, right, celebrates with Martin Jenkins after making an interception against Troy.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson's Robert Smith, right, celebrates with Martin Jenkins after making an interception against Troy.

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is in wait-and-see mode as the Tigers move into the second half of spring practice.

Asked repeatedly to talk about the specific defensive players, on Friday Venables repeatedly declined to make a definitive judgment. There has been, he said, both good and bad in every player's performance.

"I don't know - I've just got a big picture in mind," Venables said. “We’re making progress. Guys have better familiarity with their responsibilities. They’re competing hard, playing more physical. We’re still a work in progress, still trying to put all the pieces together.

"Every year is different, but I do see some of the experience returning, showing up. Everybody always says it starts up front. Those guys have really been consistent. I’m really pleased with their progress in picking up from where they left off a year ago, continuing to improve. We’ve got a good group to go against. It’s been give and take. I’m pleased with where we’re at right now, but we’ve still got a long ways to go, and still have the rest of the spring, summer and fall camp. We’ve still got work to do.”

Dabo Swinney said earlier in the week that the Tiger defense is "head and shoulders" ahead of where it was at this time last spring.

Venables agreed, but only up to a point.

"On the front seven, I would agree; after that, we'll see," Venables said. "I'm not disagreeing. The front seven are more consistent, but they still have to get better. So I'd say there's a lot more clarity up front and a lot more uncertainty in back than there was a year ago."

When he took over Clemson's defense last spring, Venables had the services of three experienced senior starters in Xavier Brewer, Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks.

With those players gone, and numbers already thin, Venables is working this spring with a group that includes eight scholarship defensive backs, including first semester freshman Jadar Johnson and junior Martin Jenkins, who is not yet back at full-speed after missing last season with surgery. Clemson signed seven defensive backs in February, and Venables knows that some will have to play in the fall.

"There's going to be a group of guys coming in, unfortunately, that are going to have to help us," he said. "How much they can, we'll see. It's not ideal, but it's like with Travis Blanks last season, and he was mature enough to handle it.

"You don't know until you start working with them. You get to know them in recruiting, but until they get here you don't know how quickly they'll learn or how hard you can coach them. You don't know their competitiveness and tough-mindedness, or how much they've worked before they got here.

"There's so much unknown, so we'll just see."

Venables said he likes the players that he and secondary coach Mike Reed are working with this spring.

"These guys have the right substance to them," he said. "We just have to keep working them and keep sawing away, improving our fundamentals and our mental and physical toughness."

Venables said part of his reluctance to overly praise his defensive backs is related to last season.

“I want to see it - I want to see it," he said. "A year ago, I thought those guys were pretty solid. In fall camp, they were. But then they didn’t perform with the consistency that it takes, mentally or physically.

"So it'll be a process, with guys coming in here, to add some depth.”

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Comments » 7

radtiger writes:

Seem like hes getting us ready for another below average defense again

SlappleDapple writes:

in response to radtiger:

Seem like hes getting us ready for another below average defense again

That's the pessimist's interpretation. Have you ever heard the term "coach speak"?

SoCalTiger writes:

I would much rather he downplay the progress rather than overstate it. Big bold statements before the season starts have been made by others in the past and have not been fulfilled. For instance, there has been early talk about Clemson's chances for a national championship which I think is not wise. I'd be focused completely on Georgia and nothing else. I like the cautious approach. The defense has to be better than last year.

waran writes:

in response to SoCalTiger:

I would much rather he downplay the progress rather than overstate it. Big bold statements before the season starts have been made by others in the past and have not been fulfilled. For instance, there has been early talk about Clemson's chances for a national championship which I think is not wise. I'd be focused completely on Georgia and nothing else. I like the cautious approach. The defense has to be better than last year.

I agree. It is better to downplay rather than yap a lot and lose to UGA and USC. I really hope Dabbo does not say anything about Spurier and USC this year.

lhaselden writes:

Dabo is plays good cop...other coaches are the ones pushing the players every day giving them a kick in the butt when needed. If the player does not respond they ain't playing much...
Boyd made a comment in Morris's first year... if a receiver ain't blocking he is not getting any passes thrown his way.... Morris pushes his receivers to fully commit every play whether they are getting the ball or not...

Clemorange writes:

I'm not worried at all. My expectations are high but I don't believe I'll be wrong so I'm saying this now. This year I think we will be seeing a lot more picks by our defense and I'm thinking we will beat georgia by at least three scores. Just wait and see.

jarheadtiger writes:

Wow, Clem, I would love it, but dont see it. I know GA is losing some people on D, but they played a lot of underclassmen and back ups last year. Their offense is pretty darn nice, and can sling it or line up and play smash mouth. I love what we can do, but a lot of it is getting timing down and in rhythm. Our Line and Running game are going to be question marks for a few weeks still. Passing Game being in sync on the First game of the season? We shall See. Im not playing doubtng Thomas, but lets all temper our enthusiasm, as the Dawgs are a pretty good team themselves. I dont wanna hype it and it turn into a Bama Debacle.

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