By Will Vandervort.
A lot has been made this off-season on what 16th-ranked Clemson brings back defensively from last year’s Orange Bowl Championship team. The Tigers have a wealth of experienced talent on the defensive line that is unmatched, while at the same time has perhaps the best inside linebacker in the Atlantic Coast Conference coming back as well.
But how good can this year’s defense really be?
“I do believe that we have the most complete depth since I have been here at all three levels,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Some positions have more depth in experiences and some have more depth in good quality players that just need to gain the experience.”
One thing this year’s defense has is players that understand Brent Venables’ system. Clemson’s defensive players are now entering their third year under his tutelage and the results are starting to show in everything that they do.
“We don’t want any what-if moments,” defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said. “We don’t want any ‘my-bad moments.’ We want to give it everything we have every chance we get. That’s in meetings, practice, eating – that’s whatever we are doing. We want to give it our all.”
All Venables wants is his guys to learn how to play the game and play it fundamentally well.
“You are developing that foundation and getting guys to learn to love the game and learn to love and compete,” he said. “So I think before you ever get to the field, I think there are some things that they have to be good at. That’s the foundation that you want and then understand football one-on-one.
“Understand the game. Why do you do what you do? What are the strength and weaknesses of different calls? Does that take time? Yes, sometimes, but you want to play to your players’ strengths and I think at times we did that last year and hopefully we will do that this year. I’m just a firm believer in what the guys put in usually gets the kind of results you want.”
Thanks to guys like Williams, linebacker Stephone Anthony, defensive end Vic Beasley, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and safety Robert Smith, Venables has experienced leadership that convey his beliefs and his teachings to the younger players.
“It’s not only seniors. Just because a guy is a senior does not make him a good leader. Sometimes we get that confused even as coaches, but you have to have leadership qualities and we do. We have a number of them,” he said. “Guys do care for each other and they do care for this program. They have unselfish attitudes and that is where it all starts.
“The best teams you have been around are player driven and you as a coach cannot want it more as the players. I think these guys are a group of guys that hate losing more than they do winning. I love that about them because losing matters. So whether you lose an inside drill, you lose the Paw drill, you lose one-on-ones – it matters.”
When Venables first came to Clemson that was not the case – players looked at him like he was crazy at times. Now, as he heads into his third season at the Tigers’ defensive coordinator and linebacker’s coach – they get it. They understand what he is talking about when he tells them losing matters.
“When guys get it – they have a chance to be pretty special.”