There has been a lot made about how bad Clemson’s quarterbacks looked at times throwing the football in last Saturday’s Orange & White Game, but did anyone stop to think maybe there is a reason for that.
Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper, Hunter Johnson and Tucker Israel combined to complete just 33 of 63 passes, a 52.3 completion percentage, for just 266 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. Safeties Nolan Turner, Korrin Wiggins and Denzel Johnson had the three interceptions for a secondary that Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said had a very good spring.
“We have not figured everything out yet. We just need to let them keep competing,” he said. “It is a good group. It is a good group.”
It’s a group that is filled with depth and a lot of talent. At corner, the Tigers have Ryan Carter back along with Mark Fields, Trayvon Mullen, Marcus Edmond, K’Von Wallace and Amir Trapp. At safety, Van Smith returns as the starter, while Tanner Muse, Isaiah Simmons, Wiggins, Johnson and Turner are all competing to play.
The longest pass play the secondary allowed in the spring game was a 34-yard reception to Ray-Ray McCloud, but that was on pop-pass. Other than that, the secondary kept pretty much everything in front of them, though Deon Cain did drop what could have been a long play down field.
“We have four safeties that are kind of trust worthy guys,” Venables said. “The corners … they are a group, so it has been really pretty good. There is no cause for alarm right now.”
Venables was especially pleased with the progress of Trayvon Mullen, who is competing for the starting spot at boundary corner. Last year, Mullen played in 13 games, three on special teams, as he recorded 15 tackles. However, he did take 115 snaps and had one pass break up.
“He is playing with a little better, cleaner technique, positioning and is doing a lot of things well early,” Venables said. “You have to win early at corner with the way we play. You have to win early and you have to be a great finisher too.”
They also have to be strong, which is an area Venables says Mullen has made great strides in. The Clemson coach said most schools just focus on having their corners run their corner drills and work on their speed and technique.
That’s not the case at Clemson. Venables wants his defensive backs to have to be physical in his system.
“You have to play functionally strong,” he said. “It has already helped him and it will help him make another huge jump over the summer between now and then.
“He has been doing well. He understands things. He is a little more confident. He has better overall technique. He knows when to be inside leverage or outside leverage, press, bail, all of that.”
Venables thought Mullen had a really good true-freshman year, even though Mullen might not have thought so.
“We were a good team. We won the national championship, I heard,” the Clemson coach said jokingly. “So I thought he played a lot and I thought (linebacker) Trey Lamar played a lot. That is just me, but they did not probably play as much as they would have like, but you know … it is hard anywhere, unless you just stink on offense and defense to just play every snap as a freshman. It is hard. It is hard to do.”