By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- With spring practice underway, all eyes are on the newest addition to Clemson’s football coaching staff, defensive coordinator Brent Venables who pledges to bring simplicity back to Clemson’s defense. TCI caught up with Venables after Monday’s practice and the former Oklahoma defensive coordinator and linebacker guru was encouraged about what he’s seen so far from the players he has to work with.
“It’s been a process but they’ve done a good job so far,” Venables said. “We’ve got some guys who have some decent athleticism and good strength, a little bit of leverage, they can move their feet, conceptually they are gaining a decent grasp of what we’re doing and making progress each day.”
Venables however was hesitant to name names as to who was standing out to him the most on the practice fields.
“As a group, they’re doing things that give them a chance to be good,” Venables said. “As I’ve said all month it all starts up front, that’s not earth shattering news. Looks like those guys have shown their ability to hold their own and making the improvement that we need to, trying to get them all a bunch of snaps to make up for the lack of experience.”
Venables believes that his players have been picking up the defense both physically and mentally,
“They’re picking things up mentally, fundamentally, and physically,” Venables said. “Guys playing fast, playing with good technique, typically that’s a reflection of knowing what his responsibility is and where his eyes need to be, where his hat and hands need to be. It’s been positive.”
Venables knows that when players learn things such as a new defensive scheme for the first time they won’t seem as sure of themselves, as they’re learning a new language along with the system.
“They’re learning a new system which is a process,” Venables said. “But I’ve been pleased with their willingness to work and guys are making progress, competing hard, working hard on the field and off.”
One player that Venables has been pleased with so far is middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, who showed spurts of greatness during his freshmen season.
“I’ve been pleased with him,” Venables said. “He’s active, athletic, instinctive and explosive.”
As far as linebackers go, Venables isn’t sure yet on his starting three, as he’s only had four practices to watch them grasp the defense.
“We’re just rotating right now,” Venables said. “We’re giving guys the opportunity both mentally and physically to develop and compete. Things are wide open, we said it all along that we would judge by a body of work, its one thing what you’ve done in the past but it has zero to do with what you’ll do in the future and what you’re capable of doing now. I want guys to know that there’s a fighting chance and there’s an evaluation process going on every day.”
After the disappointing loss in the Orange Bowl to West Virginia, Venables senses that the players are eager to get back to work and put the past behind them, and if they can do that he thinks they’ll have a pretty dang good season.
“I think they’re excited,” Venables said. “It’s a new year, a new team, a new opportunity. There’s a sense that there’s enough quality players coming back that if they do things right and put in the work then they’ll have a pretty dang good team next fall. There’s an excitement from that standpoint more than anything. They’re not naïve; they realize what they need to work on individually and as a team. It’s a good start.”
Venables is also excited about Bashaud Breeland and what he brings to the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s doing well, he’s very competitive and is going up against some very good players’ every day,” Venables said. “He’s his own worst critic I’ve noticed and has the ability to improve as a player because of the tough mindedness and humility that he has.”
The biggest challenge for Venables while installing his new system is making the guys understand a new language.
“The hardest part is understanding the new language,” Venables said. “Knowing what it means to them, what it means to the guy next to them, how it all fits together. That’s the biggest thing.”
Clemson had its share of issues with tackling last season, how will Venables go about improving that?
“Experience helps,” Venables said. “Making sure they know what to do, trusting the guy next to them, defense is a trained reaction and just understanding the discipline and overall what we’re doing and their responsibility. It’s as much a mental thing as anything. At the end of the day, tackling is attitude and tackling is toughness and developing that mindset during a lot of competition where you’re trying to quantify a winner and loser whether it’s the paw drill (short yardage drill) or things of that nature, where you’re developing the toughness and mindset that it takes to be a good tackling defense.”