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Kelly trending the right way, which Tigers desperately need

While everyone is writing and talking about how great Clemson’s defense could be in 2017, Brent Venables is not one of them. The Tigers’ defensive coordinator is concerned that his defense is not as deep as he would like it to be.

“It already was not real good going (into camp),” he said after practice on Tuesday. “Other than linebacker, I didn’t think we had good depth going into this season, probably like a lot of people. But we will have enough guys. We just need eleven of them.”

Despite his concerns, Venables is happy with the prospects that defensive end Xavier Kelly can possibly help with his unit’s lack of depth on the outside of the defensive line. Thanks to a summer car accident involving Richard Yeargin, which injured his neck, Clemson is already down one man on the depth chart so it is going to need Kelly and some others to step up and fill the void.

So far in fall camp, Kelly is doing his part.

“He has done well. He has improved. He has improved in the basic things,” Venables said. “Alignment stance, how he gets off the ball, his footwork, his discipline, how he reads his keys, playing with leverage, playing with quickness, having a plan. He has done a lot of things. He has been pleasing and he has definitely improved.”

After getting injured in a moped accident during camp last summer, Kelly missed time and was forced to redshirt in 2016. When he came back in the spring, Venables was concerned because the 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end was not meeting the expectations his coach had envisioned.

“I was a little concerned in the spring because of where he was with my expectation and really knowing our roster and where he needed to be,” Venables said. “I have been real pleased with his progress. A lot of guys and his teammates have poured in and helped him all summer. It is very obvious.”

Venables is using the first couple of weeks of fall camp to give Kelly and freshmen Jordan Williams and Justin Foster all kinds of looks in hopes of having them in position to compete for playing time. Right now, he is giving them the looks he knows they’re going to see the most this season.

“You have to make sure he has his eyes trained up and his pad level trained up, physicality trained up and find out what he does well,” the Clemson coach said. “Feed him a lot of that, and try to stress him a little bit both mentally and physically.

“Put him in situations where he has to learn how to compete, play with leverage, get off blocks, chase the ball and see if he is willing to do all of those things. You really want a catalog of information to really gage. Through the first few weeks of fall camp, you want to be able to see if a guy is ready or not. Sometimes, your hand is forced and you have to get him ready and sometimes, it is like, ‘Let’s just hold on.’”

If he is not ready, Venables will scheme around it and will try to make matchups with the defense’s strengths.

As for Kelly, though. He is almost ready. His fundamentals are more natural now and he’s trusts his eyes a little more and is sticking to his keys.

“He is reacting in the appropriate way in which the key tells him,” Venables said. “All of those things. He’s improved in every phase. He is not a complete, polished player and ready to be the guy yet. But I do think he’s ready to be a guy, and a guy that we can rely on if he continues to progress.

“So far in camp, from where he was in the spring, he’s on the right path. He’s trending in the right way. But tomorrow it could change. I hope it doesn’t.”

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