By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- After his defense was able to get the final stop against Florida State last Saturday to make Clemson 4-0 on the season; Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele is ready to take the show on the road as the Tigers visit Virginia Tech this weekend, for their first road challenge. Although the Tigers were able to hold the Seminoles last weekend in their run game, how will the Tigers fare against Virginia Tech’s run first offense?
“I think we’re progressing very nicely in the way we’re playing the run,” Steele said. “We’ve got our hands full this week though because Virginia Tech traditionally is one of the better running teams in this part of the country.”
The Hokies are led by a Cam Newton look alike quarterback and two running backs that have been solid so far this season. Is David Wilson, their number one tailback, the most explosive back that the Tigers will see all season?
“Yes he’s very explosive and talented, you better lace your shoes up because if you don’t he’ll bring you out of them, he’s that good of a runner,” Steele said. “But if you ask me next week I’ll say the same thing because most teams have a good running back.”
Two weeks ago, Steele mentioned to the media that he didn’t believe his defense was a good defense based on the big chunk plays that they continue to give up, where does he see his defense now after two solid outings versus Auburn and Florida State?
“Where not anywhere close to being where I want us to be, the expectation is so high,” Steele said. “I said two weeks ago that we weren’t very good at that time, we’ve improved a great deal. If you look at our total body of work, you’re seeing the same thing 55 very productive football plays, and then you’re seeing 5 to 6 plays that just skew the whole thing. This past game there were no chunk run plays, they didn’t exist, but we still had the two or three big chunk pass plays that we gave up.”
A lot of the big plays have been given up this season by the secondary in which Clemson is starting two rookie cornerbacks in Darius Robinson and Bashad Breeland.
“One of the factors is when you get multiple wide receivers on the field, in terms of you’ve got two rookie corners on the field, since the veterans are inside on the slot receivers,” Steele said. “But they’re growing up, they’ve been baptized by fire now, they’ve got no excuses, they can’t say they are rookies anymore.”
There have been a lot of questions surrounding freshmen linebackers Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony who both avoided the redshirt earlier this season however have not seen the field as much during the past two contests. How is Steward progressing with his knee injury, and where do he and Anthony stand as far as playing time is concerned?
“Tony’s progressing very well with his knee injury,” Steele said. “Actually what happened with Tony and Stephone these past two weeks, I’m upset with myself about this is that they have to play more than they did last week. A couple of times, he was put on the field, at the start of the series we put nickel and dime and regular out there, and then people come off instead of having to exchange people when we know what we want to call. He actually went out there a couple of times but their personnel grouping dictated that we were in multiple DB and so he came off, and at the end of the deal he didn’t get to play. We just have to do a better job of making sure that he gets to play because he’s practicing very well. Probably the last two weeks is where he’s kind of gotten into his groove.”
In his mind, Stephone is in the same situation, saying that it’s all on him, and that Anthony should have gotten more playing time.
At the beginning of the season, Steele thought the defensive line was his biggest concern, although he’s pleased with the starting front line on defense, he’s not ready for one of them to get hurt because of the lack of depth behind them.
“Rennie has given us good snaps, Brandon, Branch and Malliciah have all given us good snaps,” Steele said. “But what if one of those guys got hurt? I don’t think we’re ready for one of those to have to not be able to play, but we’ve made progress with the other guys.”