Tiger defense pursuing 'great,' fighting complacency

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney addresses the media at his annual golf outing at The Reserve at Lake Keowee.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney addresses the media at his annual golf outing at The Reserve at Lake Keowee.

SUNSET – Just about a year ago, Dabo Swinney confidently told a skeptical media assembled that Clemson’s defensive front-seven was going to be a strength by season’s end.

That defensive unit – led by then second-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables – was coming off as middle-of-the-road a performance as any in 2012 (64th in total defense).

The other side of the ball, that’s where the fireworks were crackling – led by Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins and Chad Morris.

“I stood here last year (in front of the media) and y’all almost turned your cameras off,” Swinney said Tuesday at his annual media golf outing at The Reserve at Lake Keowee. “Y’all asked what the strength of the team was and were waiting for me to talk about Tajh or Sammy. I said the strength of our team will really be our front-seven. And that’s really the way it worked out. We led the nation in tackles for loss and top 25 in just about everything defensively. It was exciting to see that play, despite having some flaws.

Swinney sees 'great' defense

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“I think this year defensively we have a chance to be as complete a unit as I’ve had as a head coach.”

Clemson returns seven starters on defense, which includes senior defensive end Vic Beasley – the nation’s leading returner in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (23) and former five-star middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, who was also among the nation’s leaders with 15 TFLs.

Venables is playing both sides of the preseason hype machine, finding a way to simultaneously temper expectations and question why they aren’t even higher.

“I think we have proven depth upfront,” said Venables. “I think we’re talented across the board, but sometimes the talent doesn’t always equate to production. Not trying to be evasive, ‘great’ and ‘the best’ – I don’t take those words lightly.

“What I loved about last year’s unit that really has nothing to do with this year’s unit outside of some of the same guys back – is how we got better. How we found an identity and continued to improve form the beginning of the year to the end. As a coach, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your guys get better.”

Coaching talented squads at both Oklahoma and Kansas State before his TigerTown stay, Venables has seen the good and bad from top prospects and experience returning.

“It’s not happened much, but there’s been a year or two there where you’ve had a talented and experienced team coming back and you underperform,” Venables said. “It’s real simple to identify – some guys just not playing as hard. Not investing as much, taking things for granted – a lot of the little things. Not great leadership, not handling adversity well. Guys that are coming back and now they think they’ve arrived and they think they’re doing everyone else a favor by coming back. I’ve had that. That can be a cancer to your team.”

Where some programs seemingly have automatic bids into the top-15 and top-10 preseason, Clemson hasn’t quite earned that right - a general feel nationally that the Tigers will take a step back losing key offensive weapons. Commanding a nation-pacing unit returning its stars, Venables has taken note of the unspoken-yet-hinted disrespect.

Expectations high for Beasley, Clemson DEs

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“To me that’s an indictment on we lost two guys and that’s our whole team and they’re questioning everybody else and don’t think much of them,” said Venables. “Within our own conference, they’re talking about our secondary and talk about all the talent that’s back there, but I know a lot of people’s conversation they’re way on down the totem pole. And we are as a program, apparently. We have a lot to prove and lot to earn a lot of respect. If you’re a good solid program, you’re in the top-15 talk – it don’t matter. I think a lot of people don’t have us there.

“That’s fine, you have to go out and earn it.”

For the head coach, Swinney – heading into his sixth full season – he’s just looking for the team effort, but he’d be surprised if they aren’t anchored by their defenders.

“We got to go do it,” said Swinney. “All it is, is a bunch of talk and projections and looks good on paper, but I know this, when the season is over, I’ll be highly disappointed if we’re not a great defense and have not had a great performance from these guys.”

Follow Brandon Rink on Twitter @brink_aim and OrangeandWhite.com @orangeandwhite

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Comments » 9

Xander5000 writes:

Venables seems to get it and want it. If the whole team can do the same that would be awesome. If our defense can play like its 0 to 0 all 4 quarters, with little time on the clock, and all we got to do is keep the other team from scoring, then it can only help our team all season long.

lhaselden writes:

Do you see how deep we are at DT, DE, LB..... WOW if a player is not giving it all they will not see the filed.. were are deep Watson started 2 games last year and may not start this year. I would not be surprised if only Anthony gets more that 40 snaps a game.

TigerNE writes:

We should be used to being underrated by "experts" in the professional sports media. And I like it. Hopefully Venables and the other coaches prefect using it for motivation in the early part of the season.

If we don't finish solidly in the top 10 in both pass and rush defense this season, it will be disappointing.

33dtb writes:

in response to TigerNE:

We should be used to being underrated by "experts" in the professional sports media. And I like it. Hopefully Venables and the other coaches prefect using it for motivation in the early part of the season.

If we don't finish solidly in the top 10 in both pass and rush defense this season, it will be disappointing.

We're going to be underrated by "experts" until we get an O-Line worthy of rating.........till our QBs can throw a deep pass with getting beat with a 2x4. ....till our very talented RBs can get the yards they should.

Bama's and LSU's QBs look across O-Lines with butts 3 feet across...

clemvol writes:

Talk is talk. The mantra needs to be "shut up and play, shut up and coach.

Clemorange writes:

33, did you not watch the Clemson and LSU game? Boyd was getting beat down with a sledge hammer and still delivered.

TigerNE writes:

in response to Clemorange:

33, did you not watch the Clemson and LSU game? Boyd was getting beat down with a sledge hammer and still delivered.

Every place you look where Tiger fans go read about the team or to chat, there are always some who suffer from a severe case of SEC envy. I suspect some of them are really SEC fans and just looking to be controversial. Not sure where 33dtb fits in that spectrum. But if 33 is really a Tiger fan, perhaps he needs to choose an alternate SEC team to get behind. His life with be much happier....

Even thought our O line is far from top 10, it isn't as bad as those with SEC envy think it is.

33dtb writes:

in response to TigerNE:

Every place you look where Tiger fans go read about the team or to chat, there are always some who suffer from a severe case of SEC envy. I suspect some of them are really SEC fans and just looking to be controversial. Not sure where 33dtb fits in that spectrum. But if 33 is really a Tiger fan, perhaps he needs to choose an alternate SEC team to get behind. His life with be much happier....

Even thought our O line is far from top 10, it isn't as bad as those with SEC envy think it is.

Played football and graduated from Clemson, thank you very much............I'm just darn well tired of Carolina beating us for a change......

33dtb writes:

in response to Clemorange:

33, did you not watch the Clemson and LSU game? Boyd was getting beat down with a sledge hammer and still delivered.

my point exactly ......and W Va, and Carolina, and FSU ??????????
and what about Charlie Whitehurst.... never had as much as 3 seconds.....and we've had really good running backs that could NEVER get any yards inside..

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