By Katie Barnes.
By Katie Barnes
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables previewed the 2013 season for the media Tuesday at The Reserve.
Question: Talk to us about your expectations for this defense coming in.
Venables: Obviously, you expect growth, improvement, more consistency. There is no question we have developed more depth across the board. I think I’ve got a much better understanding of our personnel and what we can and can’t do. Leadership ability, how guys handle different situations, what we are good at and not so good at how to get better. Things going into fall camp to get more clarity are secondary and how to consistently create a pass rush with four guys that is imperative to the growth of any secondary, experienced or not, you need to be able to get consistent pressure up front and that was an issue for us the first part of the season and we got better that way so we played better as a defense. There were a lot of moving and changing parts a year ago and it took us a good part of the season to get our front seven to play with consistency and chemistry but they have a good understanding of what they can do. As we gained experience with the guys up front we saw some issues and got substantially better. I’m excited about our leadership with our returning guys at secondary. We had the injuries last year to our corners, Darius Robinson, Bashaud Breeland, Martin Jenkins, those were guys who played a lot of football here and we weren’t very deep at those positions. Those guys bring a lot of leadership along with Travis Blanks and Robert Smith. I like the chemistry we have back there. We have an influx of freshman. We will have to count on some of the freshman, unfortunately, but I also think that there is enough talent there that it may not be a bad thing. Our front seven have got great leadership. Grady Jerrett, Josh Watson, DeShawn Williams, those guys inside and Corey Crawford, Vic Beasley, Tavaris Barnes can provide some leadership because we need them to do that if we are going to make the leap we need to. Our linebackers’ chemistry: they all like each other, they all like ball, they all like to work, you can coach them all hard, we have a really good group of guys, six or seven of them that you feel good about. It’s quality depth, not depth in numbers. Depth isn’t numbers to me, it’s what kind of leader and player the next guy is and how he understands what you want. We have a combination of guys who can run, strike, who have instincts, who are tough, and who can lead. It’s a good foundation. There may be some freshman who come in and surprise us like last year DJ Reader really surprised us a year ago and Carlos came along and I like our front group of guys. But can we really create a consistent pass rush? You know the LSU game wasn’t an act of trickery or all the sudden guys just ‘getting it’ as much as it was we won upfront first and foremost. I thought our guys played aggressively in the backend, they played smart and disciplined. But our guys upfront, our 4 consistently beat their 7 and sometimes 8. When you can do that you look like a bunch of wool—beaters upfront. And in reality you’ve got guys who are whooping people; that’s the formula for good defense: providing that kind of pressure upfront. If we can do that again you will see the same kind of success. It doesn’t have to be getting 8 and 9 sacks a game, but the consistent threat there along with secondary improvement and our consistency at linebackers will be the keys.
Question: Is there a comparison to last year at this time and this year at this time?
Venables: No. There are so many unknowns from my standpoint last year. I didn’t know our staff and players, who our leaders were, what we were going to be good at. It’s one thing to do it against yourselves or the scouts or against your offense better than any other team would know them. It’s one thing to be in that comfort zone and then to play other people. And you knew that there would be a learning curve and what that would be you never knew. Even when we blitzed a year ago early on, we didn’t do it with great precision or violence but we got better as the season went along as guys got more experience with some of the same schemes. In the second half of the season they were a lot more successful with better precision, instead of three steps it took us two steps. And again we like to play a lot of guys so you have to develop continuity; you don’t want to put the cart before the horse. That was a challenge, trying to find out who the guys were that were the best 11 on game day. Sometimes the best 11 might not be the best under pressure on game day under the lights so to speak. That’s all part of the learning process from my standpoint. They all had to get used to me also. There are games, drives, plays that you’d love to have back the second half of the season but the test of any play or organization is time. You are what you are, what you repeatedly do. In the second half of the season we showed that we made substantial improvement in a lot of areas but I felt a lot better as a play caller and numbers were indicative of that. We got in the shoot out against NCState, when you’re giving up 70-yard post routes and 50-yard bombs and letting guys get behind you, everything else can be perfect and one guy can mess it up. That’s what happened in that game along with our kick off return game, that game was a lot closer than it needed to be. And South Carolina we couldn’t make a play when we needed to and it all starts upfront and their 4 or 5 beat our 4 or 5 all day, we didn’t beat anybody the entire game and when we did we were just off. But I think those two games were not reflective of the growth that we had that second half of the season. Every year is different, you have to start over. Just because you had success in your last game or last half of the season, or last year doesn’t mean you’ll have success again or the opposite. I’ve been on teams when we lost our last game and had no momentum going into the post-season then you come out undefeated and win a championship and then the flip side. Every year is different: players, coaches, circumstances, opponents are different and how we continue to develop that foundation, leadership, and chemistry is going to be really critical. What they’ve done in the summer will play a big part. I don’t know what they’ve done in the summer but Ill find out and we will have three weeks to figure it out and see if our guys want to make a real commitment.
Question: There was a point last year during the season that you wanted to get more physical. You guys did the unprecedented thing on tackling to the ground, are you going to do anything in camp to put an emphasis on being physical from the beginning?
Venables: I think that’s a good pint and I think that you’re always trying to find that balance: what you could get away with without exposing yourself to potential injuries, that’s what coaches always worry about, but the bottom line is you’re looking at results and ours weren’t what they needed to be and I’ve had a veteran unit where you didn’t have to be as physical because they knew what it was about and then you had guys that obviously that was the remedy that we needed. We will see and push the envelope and if we aren’t getting the results that we need that will be an option. WE are only allowed so many of those days during the spring and those limitations aren’t there in camp but what we have to manage is over a three week period we don’t want to beat guys up. It’s about being physical at every position across the board and having that tough minded attitude and the physicality that goes along with it and that will be a huge priority.
Question: Talk about the opportunity to play a team like Georgia right off the bat and Aaron Murray, a pro-style quarterback, and all the challenges they bring.
Venables: It’s a huge challenge, obviously, they are as good as anyone in the country. In terms of experience, they have a play caller an their quarterback is like another coach on the field, he’s a great player. They have a great supporting cast, their offensive line, the running backs are all-world, they are as good as advertised. I think Nebraska was the number one pass defense in the country and UGA went up and down the field on them like they were going against a scout team at times. We will have our hands full but it’s a great challenge for Georgia as well. It’s a great challenge for us as an opener but I think they also look at it like Clemson’s a good challenge for them as well. Our guys are excited that game has its time, its still a month or so away and it will get here soon enough. They present a lot of challenges for everyone they play and as we all know they are a proverbial 5 yards away from playing in the National Championship. They’ve got a happening football team coming back but we feel like we do as well.
Question: What kind of difference does it make in the overall intensity and just the focus in camp when you’re opening up against Georgia instead of a heavy underdog?
Venables: The intensity is always there in camp but as it gets closer there is a bigger sense of urgency from players, coaches are like that all the time we are maniacs and act like this is the end of the world everyday, that’s what we do, but for the players there is more of an awareness. Everyday that is gone is a day you can’t get back. Along with that comes meeting and drills and it lends credibility to the focus and precision that we are asking them to bring.
Question How did you access last spring in terms of the guys being used to you and your style?
Venables: I didn’t necessarily access it from outside but I think there was a comfort level from everybody from meeting room, expectation, them coming prepared, how I teach, our schemes, language, verbiage, to how we go about practice: the attitude, intensity, what all of our expectations are as coaches, the attention to detail that it takes, how I operate on the sideline at practice. I didn’t have to go find guys this spring where last spring, if they weren’t in, they were all over. I think it was a more efficient spring from that standpoint. But with that being said because of injuries or suspensions or a lack of depth, our hands were tied on some of the things we were able to do in the spring, too. We will get caught back up to speed in fall camp.
Question: Where do you feel the secondary needs improvement?
Venables: Consistency. Nobody has to be superman, just play like a division one player plays, compete like a division one player competes, prepare like a division one player prepares. Invest in your position and your career. Off the field: make an investment, show some maturity. If you expect that nose to stay in the A-gap then we expect you to stay inside of the post. If we expect you to play outside leverage like we expect that defensive end to contain a quarterback then stay outside leverage. Do the little things the right way and do it that way every snap. You don’t have to be Deion Sanders, be competitive, be tough, tackle guys, do all the little things the right way and do it on a consistent level and if you do then you’re not having to plug all these leaks that happen and then you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul no matter how you look at it. And we shouldn’t have to hide anybody. We shouldn’t work that way. It’s unacceptable. Be consistent, stay on top of the football, stay outside, in front of, and once in a while, make that special play. The execution and the precision wasn’t what it needed to be and it needs to improve for us to be a solid unit. There’s a lot of things that we don’t know going into fall camp and I’m really excited. I like what we have. A year ago I was a little bit uncertain, even in the spring we were an incomplete group of players competing and trying to develop that depth and that to a certain degree stunted the growth but so what? It is what it is. You’re dealt with this and there is an influx of talent that will push guys and motivate guys and then again returning experience and returning health I think is a real critical thing for us as well. I’m excited for the group of veterans that we have coming back. I expect and hope Peters and Bashaud and Robinson and Jenkins to beat out all of the freshman but I do think we have some talented young guys that have a chance to push guys and help. Safety, again, we don’t have one guy that has ever started a game at safety on our roster but I feel good because of the people that I know will show up. Starting with Robert and Travis Blanks moving from nickel to safety. That’s a group of young men that I trust that stand for what’s right, that are selfless in their attitude and their tough and I don’t question them one bit. I coach the heck out of them, they’re tough guys and they have a high expectation from themselves and their teammates. They may not be this or that but all those other things they outweigh. Whether it is a physical talent or lack of experience. I really like that group of guys and we have some that are on campus already along with some young freshman but we’re going to have some inexperience there and they are going to have to grow up real fast.