Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel heard the same questions about the defense this offseason heading into 2016 as he did last offseason.
“We get the same questions every year,” O’Daniel said earlier this week. “How do you think the defense is going to be? How are you guys going to stack up compared to last year?”
Clemson’s defense answered those questions well a year ago.
Despite losing the likes of Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, Grady Jarrett, Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward following the 2014 season when Clemson ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, Clemson’s defense saw little regression in 2015. The Tigers finished 13th in the country in total defense (3,844 yards allowed), seventh in yards per game allowed (296), fifth in passing yards per game allowed (166.9) and 18th in points per game allowed (20.2).
Nevertheless, after another wave of departures to the NFL following last year’s national title run — Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Mackensie Alexander, T.J. Green, B.J. Goodson, D.J. Reader and Jayron Kearse — O’Daniel and the defense have been faced with familiar questions about how they will fare this year.
“It’s funny because each year the defense is just as good,” O’Daniel said, “if not better.”
O’Daniel is confident the defense will quiet the questions and concerns once again this season.
The redshirt junior is one of six first-year starters on the unit. But when O’Daniel looks at freshmen such as starting defensive end Clelin Ferrell and reserve tackle Dexter Lawrence, or sophomores like defensive end Richard Yeargin and linebacker Kendall Joseph who are set for increased roles, he sees positives in their youthfulness and sees players who are primed to make an impact.
“What I’ve seen is a lot of young, anxious, talented players who are ready to contribute with a very selfless attitude,” O’Daniel said, “and a will to play with passion.”
Playing with effort, heart, toughness and unselfishness is something Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables voices to his group all the time.
Venables also often talks about the importance of each player on Clemson’s defense understanding their assignments and executing their individual responsibilities. He teaches them to do their job on the field, and their job alone.
His players have bought in to his philosophies year after year since he took over as Clemson’s coordinator in 2012, and it’s one of the reasons he has been able to consistently get the most out of his talent and maintain a highly productive defense.
It’s a new year with different personnel, but the message from Venables to his defense has remained the same.
So have the questions Clemson will begin trying to answer at Auburn on Saturday night — the questions O’Daniel feels Clemson will answer again.
“One thing Venables preaches on a daily basis is don’t do too much, just do your job,” O’Daniel said. “Whenever you worry about doing someone else’s job, that’s when you make mistakes.
“You have to trust the guy next to you that he’s going to do his job, and if everyone does their assignment, then we’ll be alright.”