Earlier this week, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables spent roughly 30 minutes bragging about former Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware at the Anderson County Touchdown club.
Venables is not usually a coach who goes around bragging about one of his players. However, on this particular night, the Tigers’ defensive coach let his guard down just a little so he could express to Boulware’s hometown just how much Boulware meant to not only the Tigers’ run to the national championship, but what he meant to his teammates, the other coaches and himself.
Venables described Boulware as a selfless leader who put the team in front of his own goals, even if it meant costing him post-season recognition and awards.
“He exhausted every moment,” Venables said, “and had a commitment that is greater than his vision and his goals. Will we have that?”
Those are the things Venables says he is still looking for after the Tigers’ wrapped up spring drills two weeks ago. The Clemson defensive coordinator said they have enough talented players to be as good as they were last year on defense. However, just having talented guys coming back does not insure they will be a great defense.
“If we have enough guys that do and the leaders have that same commitment, then we will have a chance to have a really good, strong year,” he said. “If we do not have that commitment then it can go bad in a minute.”
Obviously, the 2014 defense, which led the nation in total defense as well as 10 other defensive categories, set the standard at Clemson in terms of defensive production, but Venables said the 2016 unit was great too because they always had a belief and a commitment to being the best.
“We are not there yet. We have a long ways to go,” Venables said about the potential of the 2017 unit. “We do have a great group of guys that know how to work. We have a big summer in front of us. What you put in is what you are going to get out of it.
“There are a lot of guys that still need to develop and come along that will have an opportunity to start. We have four or five spots that we are still looking at hard. Again, we have some depth issues at other spots. We will have a chance to win every game next year and we will have a chance to lose them, too. Past success does not have anything to do with future success so our guys have to have that zoom in focus and take care of what is in front of us. Right now, it is taking care of finals and having an incredible summer.”
Clemson has to replace four starters on defense this year, as well as reserve defensive tackle Scott Pagano who transferred to Oregon. Those five players will not be easy ones to replace.
“There are a lot of things we have to get better at,” Venables said. “Replacing the starters that left and the playmaking and the belief and the leadership that went along with those. Developing depth, and again, we will see if they will stay hungry.
“Are they going to be tough? Are they going to be able to handle adversity? Are they willing to commit and invest?”
In other words, are they going to be like Ben Boulware, Carlos Watkins, Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson?