SUNSET – Brent Venables’ eyes light up when talking his position: linebacker.
An All-Big Eight honoree at Kansas State, Venables relives those glory days with an impassioned sideline personality. Leadership and linebacker are intertwined being the quarterback of the defense, and Venables says Clemson’s just fine there with seniors Stephone Anthony (MIKE) and Tony Steward (WILL).
After film review, the school’s official stats have Anthony down for a team-best 131 tackles last season (10.1 per game), assisting on 56 of them. The North Carolina product lived in the backfield - his 15 tackles for loss among the nation’s top-10 returners with teammate Vic Beasley (23).
The former five-star prospect submitted paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board, opting to stick around for his senior campaign and putting in the work ever since.
Venables not proclaiming defense elite
“I know Stephone’s not taking anything for granted,” Venables said. “Workouts in the summer and through spring and conversation and the humility he has and the respect he has for the game. I think he has that sense of desperation you want as leaders. That value their role. Respect their role and respect the game and what it takes to play at a high level.”
That respect was forged, in part, by a trying sophomore campaign where he lost a starting role and played only 20 snaps total in the final three contests.
“Stephone Anthony went into the season as a starter and pretty good player,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, “and (he) got fat and happy and a little lazy and his performance didn’t match what we expected from him. And he was the backup. He’s a better player now because of that.”
Stepping out of the shadows and to the top of depth chart is another former five-star in Tony Steward, replacing stalwart weakside ‘backer Spencer Shuey (119 tackles in 2013). Setback by injuries in both knees, Florida native played his first full season healthy in a reserve role last year, compiling 37 tackles (eight on special teams).
“He’s confident and he had a great summer in regards to his leadership and taking that to another level,” Venables said. “Him and Stephone really (grabbed) the group by the throat and took them along the way – willingly or unwillingly – and I love that. We got to have that and they got to get it and I know without reservation I can coach those guys as hard as anybody in that unit. They’ll take and accept and feel like they need it. It’s time for (Steward) to be the player that we all know he can be.”
Steward’s competing alongside former T.L. Hanna standout Ben Boulware, who’s also worked at middle linebacker. Boulware put up video-game numbers for the Yellow Jackets with close to 400 hundred tackles between his junior and senior campaigns. Labeled the “ultimate football player” by Swinney last year, Boulware avoided the redshirt freshman linebackers often draw with plenty of action on special teams (25 tackles, seven in kick coverage).
“I saw Tony and Ben Boulware both move in the right direction all spring,” Venables said. “It was really noticeable in Ben Boulware. He was such a young player with no foundation. Playing as a true freshman and see his confidence and understanding – it was very noticeable change.”
On the whole, Venables is wary of projecting expectations, waiting on fall camp – and you know, actual games. That said, he has a good feeling about this group.
“We have a bunch of great guys in regards to their work ethic,” Venables said. “We’ve got chemistry I believe. Fall camp will define that I believe in our preparation, correction – our work ethic. The work that it’s going to take to get started down in Athens and begin the journey from there.”