Tiger defense 'solid' going into spring final stretch

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables huddles with his defense during the first day of Spring practice on Wednesday.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables huddles with his defense during the first day of Spring practice on Wednesday.

CLEMSON – Spring practice is winding down and the Tiger coaches have been making the most of it before the long wait to August.

Monday, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney went “live” from the quarterbacks on down in a scrimmage for his first time as a coach.

The result? The quarterbacks were elusive and efficient – the defense had some work to do as those “sacks” in past practices didn’t transition to the field.

Front-seven looking solid

Spring standouts after 11 practices

Friday, they went to work in the indoor facility preparing for the final closed scrimmage on Monday – scheduled to be another “live” session.

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables did a breakdown on his defense’s look after 11 spring sessions – a unit that returns seven starters, including the entire d-line two-deep.

“Pretty solid – pretty active, not sure if there’s been any real standouts,” said Venables Friday after practice. “(Senior defensive tackle) DeShawn Williams has been really consistent. It’s been a pretty solid group.

“(Defensive tackle is) definitely one of the strengths. Front-seven-wise we’re still working through all seven them two-deep and both of the outside linebacker positions. I like the guys that we have there in the front-seven.”

From 2013 alone, the Tigers face replacing 23 starts and 168 tackles from the weak and strongside linebacker spots.

Finally healthy after two major knee injuries, senior Tony Steward – a former five-star product out of Hastings, Fla. – is set to take over for Spencer Shuey on the weakside. Sophomore Anderson native Ben Boulware is competing there as well as working middle linebacker.

Filling the void of four-year starter Quandon Christian, redshirt sophomore T.J. Burrell and redshirt freshman Dorian O’Daniel are 1-2 in the group at strongside. The spot swaps out for nickelback, where defensive backs Travis Blanks and Korrin Wiggins should compete this fall.

“I think some guys are coming along,” Venables said. “I’ve been pleased with the battle going with Tony Steward and Ben Boulware – B.J. Goodson has made some improvement there. T.J. Burrell has been playing better than he has – more consistently.

“(Safeties) Robert (Smith) and Jadar (Johnson) have looked pretty solid. Those guys upfront have been pretty solid and consistent. I haven’t seen any real surprises. We still have some work to do. We’re a long ways away from a two-deep in the secondary.”

Along with Smith and Johnson, Jayron Kearse and converted wide receiver T.J. Green are in the safety two-deep.

Redshirt freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander has worked his way into the conversation for filling one of the two open corner spots.

Going into the final week of spring practice, Venables’ plan is no different than the start back in March – stick to the “process.”

'Best is the standard'

None

“Just guys staying hungry and working on pad level,” he said. “Execution, technique, playing with great effort. That’s how you get better. Guys keep firing away – that’s part of the process. What can you get done next week that you haven’t done? It’s all part of the process.

“We don’t play next week. We play next fall. It’s another opportunity every day to get a little bit better in fundamentals, developing leadership technique, playing with great effort – each player has to understand his weaknesses going into the week and has to improve.”

After Monday’s scrimmage, Clemson will practice Wednesday and Thursday before the 4 p.m. Orange-White spring game on April 12 (televised on ESPNU).

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